Representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths gathered at the Vatican on October 28, 2019 to sign a joint statement condemning all forms of euthanasia.
As reported by Vatican News service, the person behind the declaration is Rabbi Avraham Steinberg, co-president of the Israeli National Council on Bioethics. Rabbi Steinberg proposed the idea to Pope Francis, who entrusted the initiative to the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the president of the Academy, coordinated a mixed inter-faith group to draft the declaration. The signatories included Archbishop Paglia, representatives from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russia, representatives of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, David Rosen for the American Jewish Committee, and Samsul Anwar from the Indonesian Muhammadiyah, an Islamic social and cultural association.
Marsudi Syuhud, secretary general of the influential Islamic association Nahdlatul Ulama, offered his strong support as well, declaring: “Protecting life is one of the purposes of Islamic law, that’s why we don’t stop protecting life until the end of our life.”
Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, chairman of the United Arab Emirates Fatwa Council, noted the historic significance of the event: “Our meeting today represents a new step in the course of joint religious action. It is the first time heavenly religions have come together to assert their agreement on core values and assets.”
It is particularly significant that the statement does not limit itself to rejecting euthanasia. Rather it takes up related issues on which broad agreement is to be found among the three faiths.
First, it takes a firm “no exceptions” stance in clear and unambiguous language against “any form of euthanasia – that is the direct, deliberate and intentional act of taking life – as well as physician assisted suicide – that is the direct, deliberate and intentional support of committing suicide – because they fundamentally contradict the inalienable value of human life, and therefore are inherently and consequentially morally and religiously wrong, and should be forbidden without exceptions.”
Second, it affirms that health care workers must not be coerced into assisting in intentionally causing death, directly or indirectly, including so-called “assisted suicide.” It demands that even where the dismal practice has found legal sanction, moral objection to cooperation with it falls “into the category of conscientious objection that should be universally respected.”
Most encouraging is the strong emphasis on access to palliative care.
Palliative care services, provided by an organized and highly structured system for delivering care, are critical for realizing the most ancient mission of medicine: “to care even when there is no cure.” We encourage professionals and students to specialize in this field of medicine.
Palliative care is a great mission of mercy. The clear recognition that it is essential health care is a sure sign that inter-religious dialogue can and does yield important fruit.