Pope Paul VI

The Holy Father received in private audience on October 9th, about 600 participants of the Fifth International Congress of Hygiene and Preventive Medicine. He addressed them in French as follows:


We are very happy to welcome you here. You have come from 52 nations and various continents and met in Rome to work in the service of human health.

Your concern is with hygiene and preventive medicine. An immense field is open to your investigations and accomplishments for the greater benefit of man. Indeed, who does not see it? It is better to strive to prevent a person from becoming ill than to be busy curing him. It is better, both for him and for the society to which he belongs!

Therefore We are happy to see so many practitioners pool their experience and knowledge in this field of health which is so important for man, that is, for each individual, for each nation, and for all mankind. You intend to work in the service of individuals as well as communities, and this twofold obligation demands your thought and action.

There is no doubt that the wide range of the problems you are confronting requires that you work together, and that the role of the public authorities is of prime importance in preventive medicine, whereas it is not so in curative medicine. First and foremost, those responsible are required to combat social scourges and to create conditions of life and work which are favourable to health. We said this recently to the participants in the Symposium on ergonomy in Rome ("Osservatore Romano", 22.9.68).

There still remains much to be done in this field. As to the measures which it is for you to advise and apply, with the more or less powerful means which are put at your disposal for this purpose by the different communities, it is important never to lose sight of the pre-eminence of personal freedom and responsibility, whether it is a question of administrative organizations or of technical arrangements.

Must not be come inhuman

Collective medicine should not, because of its mass scale, become inhuman, and the hospital—which is rightly the object of your attention—must not become, as it has been called, a "treatment factory". In all the necessary measures of control and scientific enquiry, one should never lose sight of the reserved nature, the rightful intimacy of all that concerns the body, and which imposes a limit on the restrictions which a specialist might sometimes wish to adopt for good.

This is to say how necessary it is for all those responsible—technicians in all branches, the various organizers, to work together closely for the common good without jeopardising the legitimate needs of the individual, and to succeed in creating institutional structures whose constitution and functioning make it possible to keep a human outlook in hygiene and health services. Therefore your technical research must always be accompanied by psycho-sociological studies of the different social strata and by a constant effort to educate those who use the services to encourage their free adherence to the disciplines proposed to them for their own good and for that of the community to which they belong. A person must not be too easily deprived of the responsibility for his own life and that of his family, nor should he be confused by having applied to him anonymous techniques in the name of progress without regard for his physical and moral personality.

Concern for individuals foremost

We would certainly have much to say to you on this last point, but today We can only make reference to it. Moreover, have you not these duties perpetually in mind? If it could be said of the doctor that he is never curing a sickness but always a sick person, it is also true to state that the preventive measures or measures of hygiene that you are promoting never apply only to a body but they concern a person, therefore, a subject which has the right to our infinite respect. And here the Christian adds—someone who has been created in the image and likeness of the Creator, who was redeemed by the blood of Christ, who is called to know and love God, and to live in blessed closeness with him.

Any technique therefore will always be only an instrument, the application of which remains subject to the higher moral rules which govern human life. And no perfected technique will ever replace concern for individuals, who have a tremendous need of genuine love.

Is it not, then, this love of man that guides you through your research and inspires your experiments and tests with all the risk and hope they involve? We rejoice with. you in this, and We gladly invoke on your work, as on your persons, abundant divine blessing.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
24 October 1968, page 10

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