Integral Vision of Health Care

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

To Italian Catholic Doctors November 25, 1995

1. I am pleased to welcome you, dear participants in the International Convention sponsored by the Institute of Clinical Medicine of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, and I congratulate you for the interesting topic you have chosen to examine: Training doctors on the threshold of the third millennium: the role of Catholic universities.

I cordially greet Professor Adriano Bausola, whom I thank for the courteous words he has just addressed to me on behalf of all those present. I also greet Cardinal Pio Laghi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, to whom I express my grateful satisfaction for his support and guidance of this convention. Lastly, I cordially welcome Professor Giovanni Gaasbarrini from the Institute of Clinical Medicine of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, and all of you, distinguished teachers from the Faculties of Medicine and Surgery of various Catholic universities throughout the world.

2. The training of those who are preparing to work in health care is a primary concern of contemporary society which is so sensitive to the "quality of life". The great transformations that have occurred in recent decades have profoundly affected the identity and role of the doctor. The travail of these changes is felt at the level of both ethical standards and scientific and technical achievements and approaches. Major difficulties and problems frequently arise which can sometimes result in humiliating retreat and withdrawal. The causes for concern however must not let us forget that prospects of great interest for the development of a medicine truly at humanity's service are unfolding, precisely in our time.

Future Doctors Need a Sound Spirituality

In this regard, we should mention first of all the cultural broadening of the concept of "health", which has gone beyond the narrow context of disease and medical services. In addition, new forms of local intervention in the area of social medicine have greatly improved earlier situations of poor health care and can normally promote not only the person's physical but also his psychological and social well-being.

However, there can be questionable extensions of the new concept of health with regard to criteria taken from the sometimes prevailing social practice. This can lead to approving approaches, behavior and legislative measures which are contrary to the individual's fundamental rights. Relying on a markedly subjectivist cultural basis, the broadening of the concept of well-being—positive in itself—thus risks turning against man.

3. In this socio-cultural context, Catholic universities have a specific task: they are called to instill a vigorous spirituality in future doctors, as well as a high level of scientific and cultural professionalism, enlightened by the word of God and authoritatively interpreted by the Magisterium. They will achieve this by adopting precise training procedures, constantly oriented towards seeking the deep and, I would like to say, interior quality of the medical profession, in close connection with the Gospel of life.

In other words, it is necessary to achieve in it that deep unity of faith and life to which the Second Vatican Council refers: "The Council exhorts Christians, as citizens of both cities, to perform their duties faithfully in the spirit of the Gospel. It is a mistake to think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come, we are entitled to shirk our earthly responsibilities.... One of the gravest errors of our time is the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and the practice of their daily lives" (Gaudium et spes, n. 43).

4. The complete, unified and dynamic view of the world and of history offered by the Christian faith is an inexhaustible wealth for understanding the new relations being established between social practice and the concept of health, and for reaffirming with new zeal the validity of that professional ethic which has for centuries been the true soul of health-care culture.

This is why, in addition to the indispensable knowledge of the Catholic faith and its doctrinal and moral implications, medical faculties should allot more time and importance to the study of the Church's social teaching, especially through the appropriate research and interdisciplinary studies. It will thus be possible to have more harmonious and comprehensive training courses available to overcome that marked fragmentation of scientific knowledge which all too often characterizes current university syllabuses and gives rise to numerous difficulties in the person's overall formation.

Young people who attend Catholic universities should be helped to acquire an integrated social vision of the medical profession, so as to be guided scientifically and ethically in the various situations in which they work. They will thus be able to exercise appropriate discernment of the requests for medical intervention, making the right decisions and, if necessary, being spurred even to the point of conscientious objection.

Join Forces in the Defense of Life

5. But the contribution made by Catholic universities does not stop here. Before they can have a cultural influence, professional and ethical values should characterize their teaching activities and interpersonal relationships in the context of university life. They must give a living witness in daily life.

Students must also be involved in formulating new criteria and strategies for social health care. In this way, by sharing with the whole academic community in the effort of research and practical planning, they will be prepared to carry out a service of true humanization, and in a world which will often be fascinated by utilitarian and pragmatic outlook, they will be able to be convinced witnesses of a new evangelization.

In this perspective, I express my sincere appreciation to all those who are actively involved in ministry to higher education, and I encourage them to continue generously in this ecclesial service, so that the Gospel may permeate the whole life of the university community.

6. Dear university teachers, faith in Christ and the desire to serve life have directed your steps toward a demanding profession. The appeal I made to all people of goodwill in the Encyclical Evangelium vitae is especially valid for you: "What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to active a great campaign in support of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life: new, because it will be able to confront and solve today's unprecedented problems affecting human life; new, because it will be adopted with deeper and more dynamic conviction by all Christians; new, because it will be capable of bringing about a serious and courageous cultural dialogue among all parties" (n. 95).

I am certain that this international meeting will serve to strengthen your richly wise and humanitarian dedication to the true good of the individual, and will be able to give rise to new resolutions to serve life, in accordance with that multifaceted treasure which the Lord's Spirit bestows upon the Church in every age.

With these sentiments, I invoke upon you all and upon your work the heavenly protection of Mary, Seat of Wisdom and Star of Evangelization, as a cordially impart to you my Apostolic blessing.

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