Pope Francis Addresses “Yes to Life!” Conference
Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life held an international conference  “Yes to Life! Taking Care of the Precious Gift of Life in its Frailty” on the defense of nascent human life in extremely frail conditions to share models of care for families whose unborn child receives a life-limiting diagnosis and who are often pressured to abort the child.  A theme of the conference was how “science and faith can be allies to accompany couples and families experiencing the birth of a child with serious illnesses or disabilities, because to accompany them with love is always possible.”

Doctors and experts in the field of perinatal care presented to attendees from 70 countries on how couples can be assisted from the medical perspective as well as offered spiritual consolation. Drs. Byron Calhoun and John Lantos explained the concept of perinatal hospices which treat the child as a true and proper patient to be treated in a multidimensional manner. Carlo V. Bellieni, an Italian neonatologist and a bioethicist, addressed the issue of fetal pain. His update on research in this area confirms that the ability to experience pain begins at 20-22 weeks gestation and unborn babies undergoing surgery at or after this age should receive anesthesia.

Pope Francis addressed the conference with a message support and understanding for families. He began by responding to the argument from the current “throw-away culture” that unborn children with a disability are “unfit for life”. The pope said, “No human being can ever be unfit for life, whether due to age, state of health or quality of existence. Every child who appears in a woman’s womb is a gift that changes a family’s history, the life of fathers and mothers, grandparents and of brothers and sisters. That child needs to be welcomed, loved and nurtured. Always!”

He expressed understanding of the situation: “Nowadays, from the very first weeks, modern prenatal diagnosis techniques can detect the presence of malformations and illness that may at times seriously endanger the life of the child and the mother’s peace of mind.”

The pharmacological, surgical and support interventions in caring for the “little patients” was addressed by Pope Francis who stated, “It is now possible to reduce the frightening gap between diagnoses and therapeutic options…Foetal therapies on the one hand, and perinatal hospices on the other, achieve surprising results in terms of clinical care, and they provide essential support to families who embrace the birth of a sick child.”

“These possibilities and information need to be made available to all, in order to expand a scientific and pastoral approach of competent care. For this reason, it is essential that doctors have a clear understanding not only of the aim of healing, but also of the sacredness of human life, the protection of which remains the ultimate goal of medical practice.”

The pope affirmed the role of perinatal care which he called “an approach to care that humanizes medicine, for it entails a responsible relationship to the sick child, who is accompanied by the staff and his or her family in an integrated care process. The child is never abandoned, but is surrounded by human warmth.”

Pope Francis proclaimed strong opposition to abortion calling selective abortion of the disabled the “expression of an inhuman eugenics mentality” and stated that abortion is never the answer to difficult prenatal diagnoses. The pontiff said,

“On a social level, fear and hostility towards disability often lead to the choice of abortion, presenting it as a form of “prevention”. However, the Church’s teaching on this point is clear: human life is sacred and inviolable, and the use of prenatal diagnosis for selective purposes must be strongly discouraged. It is an expression of an inhumane eugenic mentality that deprives families of the chance to accept, embrace and love the weakest of their children.”

Pope Francis affirmed that abortion, the taking of a human life, is never to be accepted as a solution to any problem stating, “Never, never eliminate a human life or hire a killer to solve a problem.”