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Pope Condemns Mercy Killings of Elderly

Associated Press | January 27 2005

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II condemned euthanasia Thursday, stressing that the elderly should be considered a valuable resource and not a burden to society, as the Vatican sought to mobilize public opinion against what is known as mercy killing.

The 84-year-old pontiff, himself slowed by Parkinson's disease and other ailments, set down his views in a written message for Lent, the period Christians mark by penitence and fasting before Easter. He raised the issue last week in a meeting with the ambassador from the Netherlands, the first nation to legalize euthanasia for terminally ill adults.

"What would happen if the people of God yielded to a certain current mentality that considers these people, our brothers and sisters, as almost useless when they are reduced in their capacities due to the difficulties of age or sickness," the pope said.

He said in the message that the commandment `Thou shalt not kill' must always be respected, from the beginning of life "to its natural end."

"It is a command that applies even in the presence of illness and when physical weakness reduces the person's ability to be self-reliant."

At a Vatican news conference to present the pope's message, a Belgian bishop identified by the Vatican as an expert on euthanasia urged local churches to mobilize public awareness.

"People have to be educated to vote. There has to be the desire to promote a debate and form a lobby (against euthanasia)," said Bishop Andre-Mutien Leonard. He lamented the lack of such a debate in Belgium, which also has legalized euthanasia.

At the same time, he urged the use of palliative medicine that alleviates suffering, especially when treating the terminally ill.

The pope said public opinion must be made aware that the elderly "represent a resource to be valued" and that governments must provide the economic means to prevent their exclusion from social life.

It was important, he said, that the elderly "not think of themselves as a burden to the community, and sometimes to their own families."

When he met with the new Dutch ambassador, who presented her credentials to the Vatican last Saturday, John Paul said the Holy See has repeatedly made its position known and urged Dutch authorities and medical personnel to weigh the gravity of their choices.

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