Ioannes Paulus PP. II
To the Bishops
Priests and Deacons
Men and Women religious
and all People of Good Will
on the Value and Inviolability
of Human Life
1 The Gospel of life is at theheart of Jesus' message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it isto be preached with dauntless fidelity as "good news" to the peopleof every age and culture.
At the dawn of salvation, it is the Birth of a Childwhich is proclaimed as joyful news: "I bring you good news of a great joywhich will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city ofDavid a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lc 2,10-11). The source of this"great joy" is the Birth of the Saviour; but Christmas also revealsthe full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birthof the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfilment of joy at everychild born into the world (cf. Jn Jn 16,21).
When he presents the heart of his redemptive mission,Jesus says: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly"(Jn 10,10). In truth, he isreferring to that "new" and "eternal" life which consistsin communion with the Father, to which every person is freely called in the Sonby the power of the Sanctifying Spirit. It is precisely in this"life" that all the aspects and stages of human life achieve theirfull significance.
2 Man is called to a fullness oflife which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because itconsists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernaturalvocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life even inits temporal phase. Life in time, in fact, is the fundamental condition, theinitial stage and an integral part of the entire unified process of humanexistence. It is a process which, unexpectedly and undeservedly, is enlightenedby the promise and renewed by the gift of divine life, which will reach itsfull realization in eternity (cf. 1 Jn 1Jn 3,1-2). At the same time, it isprecisely this supernatural calling which highlights the relative character ofeach individual's earthly life. After all, life on earth is not an"ultimate" but a "penultimate" reality; even so, it remainsa sacred reality entrusted to us, to be preserved with a sense ofresponsibility and brought to perfection in love and in the gift of ourselvesto God and to our brothers and sisters.
The Church knows that this Gospel of life, which shehas received from her Lord, 1 has a profound and persuasive echo in theheart of every person-believer and non-believer alike-because it marvellouslyfulfils all the heart's expectations while infinitely surpassing them. Even inthe midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open totruth and goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace,come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Rom Rm 2,14-15) thesacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and canaffirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected tothe highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human communityand the political community itself are founded.
In a special way, believers in Christ must defend andpromote this right, aware as they are of the wonderful truth recalled by theSecond Vatican Council: "By his incarnation the Son of God has unitedhimself in some fashion with every human being".2 This savingevent reveals to humanity not only the boundless love of God who "so lovedthe world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3,16), but also the incomparablevalue of every human person.
The Church, faithfully contemplating the mystery ofthe Redemption, acknowledges this value with ever new wonder.3 Shefeels called to proclaim to the people of all times this "Gospel",the source of invincible hope and true joy for every period of history. TheGospel of God's love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and theGospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel.
For this reason, man-living man-represents the primaryand fundamental way for the Church. 4
3 Every individual, precisely byreason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn Jn 1,14), is entrusted tothe maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity andlife must necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affecther at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God,and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all theworld and to every creature (cf. Mk Mc 16,15).
Today this proclamation is especially pressing becauseof the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individualsand peoples, especially where life is weak and defenceless. In addition to theancient scourges of poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence and war, newthreats are emerging on an alarmingly vast scale.
The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retainsall its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacksagainst human life. Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council andwith the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the wholeChurch, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every uprightconscience: "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type ofmurder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whateverviolates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, tormentsinflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insultshuman dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment,deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as wellas disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instrumentsof gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things andothers like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they domore harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury.Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator".5
4 Unfortunately, this disturbingstate of affairs, far from decreasing, is expanding: with the new prospectsopened up by scientific and technological progress there arise new forms ofattacks on the dignity of the human being. At the same time a new culturalclimate is developing and taking hold, which gives crimes against life a newand-if possible-even more sinister character, giving rise to further graveconcern: broad sectors of public opinion justify certain crimes against life inthe name of the rights of individual freedom, and on this basis they claim notonly exemption from punishment but even authorization by the State, so thatthese things can be done with total freedom and indeed with the free assistanceof health-care systems.
All this is causing a profound change in the way inwhich life and relationships between people are considered. The fact thatlegislation in many countries, perhaps even departing from basic principles oftheir Constitutions, has determined not to punish these practices against life,and even to make them altogether legal, is both a disturbing symptom and asignificant cause of grave moral decline. Choices once unanimously consideredcriminal and rejected by the common moral sense are gradually becoming sociallyacceptable. Even certain sectors of the medical profession, which by itscalling is directed to the defence and care of human life, are increasinglywilling to carry out these acts against the person. In this way the very natureof the medical profession is distorted and contradicted, and the dignity ofthose who practise it is degraded. In such a cultural and legislativesituation, the serious demographic, social and family problems which weigh uponmany of the world's peoples and which require responsible and effectiveattention from national and international bodies, are left open to false anddeceptive solutions, opposed to the truth and the good of persons and nations.
The end result of this is tragic: not only is the factof the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their finalstage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is thefact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespreadconditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between goodand evil in what concerns the basic value of human life.
5 The Extraordinary Consistory ofCardinals held in Rome on 4-7 April 1991was devoted to the problem of the threats to human life in our day. After athorough and detailed discussion of the problem and of the challenges it posesto the entire human family and in particular to the Christian community, theCardinals unanimously asked me to reaffirm with the authority of the Successorof Peter the value of human life and its inviolability, in the light of presentcircumstances and attacks threatening it today.
In response to this request, at Pentecost in 1991 Iwrote a personal letter to each of my Brother Bishops asking them, in thespirit of episcopal collegiality, to offer me their cooperation in drawing up aspecific document. 6 I am deeply grateful to all the Bishops whoreplied and provided me with valuable facts, suggestions and proposals. In sodoing they bore witness to their unanimous desire to share in the doctrinal andpastoral mission of the Church with regard to the Gospel of life.
In that same letter, written shortly after thecelebration of the centenary of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, I drew everyone'sattention to this striking analogy: "Just as a century ago it was theworking classes which were oppressed in their fundamental rights, and theChurch very courageously came to their defence by proclaiming the sacrosanctrights of the worker as a person, so now, when another category of persons isbeing oppressed in the fundamental right to life, the Church feels in dutybound to speak out with the same courage on behalf of those who have no voice.Hers is always the evangelical cry in defence of the world's poor, those whoare threatened and despised and whose human rights are violated".7
Today there exists a great multitude of weak anddefenceless human beings, unborn children in particular, whose fundamentalright to life is being trampled upon. If, at the end of the last century, theChurch could not be silent about the injustices of those times, still less canshe be silent today, when the social injustices of the past, unfortunately notyet overcome, are being compounded in many regions of the world by still moregrievous forms of injustice and oppression, even if these are being presentedas elements of progress in view of a new world order.
The present Encyclical, the fruit of the cooperationof the Episcopate of every country of the world, is therefore meant to be aprecise and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and itsinviolability, and at the same time a pressing appeal addressed to each andevery person, in the name of God: respect, protect, love and serve life, everyhuman life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, truefreedom, peace and happiness!
May these words reach all the sons and daughters ofthe Church! May they reach all people of good will who are concerned for thegood of every man and woman and for the destiny of the whole of society!
6 In profound communion with all mybrothers and sisters in the faith, and inspired by genuine friendship towardsall, I wish to meditate upon once more and proclaim the Gospel of life, thesplendour of truth which enlightens consciences, the clear light which correctsthe darkened gaze, and the unfailing source of faithfulness and steadfastnessin facing the ever new challenges which we meet along our path.
As I recall the powerful experience of the Year of theFamily, as if to complete the Letter which I wrote "to every particularfamily in every part of the world",8 I look with renewedconfidence to every household and I pray that at every level a generalcommitment to support the family will reappear and be strengthened, so thattoday too-even amid so many difficulties and serious threats-the family willalways remain, in accordance with God's plan, the "sanctuary oflife".9
To all the members of the Church, the people of lifeand for life, I make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer thisworld of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidaritywill increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for thebuilding of an authentic civilization of truth and love.
7 "God did not make death, andhe does not delight in the death of the living. For he has created all thingsthat they might exist ... God created man for incorruption, and made him in theimage of his own eternity, but through the devil's envy death entered theworld, and those who belong to his party experience it" (Sg 1,13-14 Sg 2,23-24).
The Gospel of life, proclaimed in the beginning whenman was created in the image of God for a destiny of full and perfect life (cf. Gn 2,7 Sg 9,2-3), is contradicted by the painful experience of death whichenters the world and casts its shadow of meaninglessness over man's entireexistence. Death came into the world as a result of the devil's envy (cf. Gn 3,1 Gn 3,4-5) and the sin of our first parents (cf. Gn 2,17 Gn 3,17-19). And deathentered it in a violent way, through the killing of Abel by his brother Cain:"And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel,and killed him" (Gn 4,8).
This first murder is presented with singular eloquencein a page of the Book of Genesis which has universal significance: it is a pagerewritten daily, with inexorable and degrading frequency, in the book of humanhistory.
Let us re-read together this biblical account which,despite its archaic structure and its extreme simplicity, has much to teach us.
"Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain atiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord anoffering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of hisflock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and hisoffering, but for Cain and his offering he had not regard. So Cain was veryangry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, ?Why are you angry andwhy has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? Andif you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, butyou must master it'.
"Cain said to Abel his brother, ?Let us go out tothe field'. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brotherAbel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ?Where is Abel your brother?'He said, ?I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?' And the Lord said, ?Whathave you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from theground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth toreceive your brother's blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shallno longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer onthe earth'. Cain said to the Lord, ?My punishment is greater than I can bear.Behold, you have driven me this day away from the ground; and from your face Ishall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, andwhoever finds me will slay me'. Then the Lord said to him, ?Not so! If any oneslays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold'. And the Lord put a markon Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. Then Cain went away fromthe presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden" (Gn 4,2-16).
8 Cain was "very angry"and his countenance "fell" because "the Lord had regard for Abeland his offering" (Gn 4,4-5). The biblical text does not reveal thereason why God prefers Abel's sacrifice to Cain's. It clearly shows howeverthat God, although preferring Abel's gift, does not interrupt his dialogue withCain. He admonishes him, reminding him of his freedom in the face of evil: manis in no way predestined to evil. Certainly, like Adam, he is tempted by themalevolent force of sin which, like a wild beast, lies in wait at the door ofhis heart, ready to leap on its prey. But Cain remains free in the face of sin.He can and must overcome it: "Its desire is for you, but you must masterit" (Gn 4,7).
Envy and anger have the upper hand over the Lord'swarning, and so Cain attacks his own brother and kills him. As we read in theCatechism of the Catholic Church: "In the account of Abel's murder by hisbrother Cain, Scripture reveals the presence of anger and envy in man,consequences of original sin, from the beginning of human history. Man hasbecome the enemy of his fellow man".10
Brother kills brother. Like the first fratricide,every murder is a violation of the "spiritual" kinship unitingmankind in one great family, 11 in which all share the same fundamentalgood: equal personal dignity. Not infrequently the kinship "of flesh andblood" is also violated; for example when threats to life arise within therelationship between parents and children, such as happens in abortion or when,in the wider context of family or kinship, euthanasia is encouraged orpractised.
At the root of every act of violence against one'sneighbour there is a concession to the "thinking" of the evil one,the one who "was a murderer from the beginning" (Jn 8,44). As the ApostleJohn reminds us: "For this is the message which you have heard from thebeginning, that we should love one another, and not be like Cain who was of theevil one and murdered his brother" (1 Jn 1Jn 3,11-12). Cain's killing of his brother at thevery dawn of history is thus a sad witness of how evil spreads with amazingspeed: man's revolt against God in the earthly paradise is followed by thedeadly combat of man against man.
After the crime, God intervenes to avenge the onekilled. Before God, who asks him about the fate of Abel, Cain, instead ofshowing remorse and apologizing, arrogantly eludes the question: "I do notknow; am I my brother's keeper?" (Gn 4,9). "I do not know":Cain tries to cover up his crime with a lie. This was and still is the case,when all kinds of ideologies try to justify and disguise the most atrocious crimesagainst human beings. "Am I my brother's keeper?": Cain does not wishto think about his brother and refuses to accept the responsibility which everyperson has towards others. We cannot but think of today's tendency for peopleto refuse to accept responsibility for their brothers and sisters. Symptoms ofthis trend include the lack of solidarity towards society's weakestmembers-such as the elderly, the infirm, immigrants, children- and theindifference frequently found in relations between the world's peoples evenwhen basic values such as survival, freedom and peace are involved.
9 But God cannot leave the crimeunpunished: from the ground on which it has been spilt, the blood of the onemurdered demands that God should render justice (cf. Gen Gn 37,26 Is 26,21 Ez24:7-8). From this text the Church has taken the name of the "sins whichcry to God for justice", and, first among them, she has included wilfulmurder. 12 For the Jewish people, as for many peoples of antiquity,blood is the source of life. Indeed "the blood is the life" (Dt 12,23), and life,especially human life, belongs only to God: for this reason whoever attackshuman life, in some way attacks God himself.
Cain is cursed by God and also by the earth, which willdeny him its fruit (cf. Gen Gn 4,11-12). He ispunished: he will live in the wilderness and the desert. Murderous violenceprofoundly changes man's environment. From being the "garden of Eden"(Gn 2,15), a place ofplenty, of harmonious interpersonal relationships and of friendship with God,the earth becomes "the land of Nod" (Gn 4,16), a place ofscarcity, loneliness and separation from God. Cain will be "a fugitive anda wanderer on the earth" (Gn 4,14): uncertainty andrestlessness will follow him forever.
And yet God, who is always merciful even when hepunishes, "put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should killhim" (Gn 4,15). He thus gavehim a distinctive sign, not to condemn him to the hatred of others, but toprotect and defend him from those wishing to kill him, even out of a desire toavenge Abel's death. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and Godhimself pledges to guarantee this. And it is pre- cisely here that theparadoxical mystery of the merciful justice of God is shown forth. As SaintAmbrose writes: "Once the crime is admitted at the very inception of thissinful act of parricide, then the divine law of God's mercy should beimmediately extended. If punishment is forthwith inflicted on the accused, thenmen in the exercise of justice would in no way observe patience and moderation,but would straightaway condemn the defendant to punishment. ... God drove Cainout of his presence and sent him into exile far away from his native land, sothat he passed from a life of human kindness to one which was more akin to therude existence of a wild beast. God, who preferred the correction rather thanthe death of a sinner, did not desire that a homicide be punished by theexaction of another act of homicide".13
10 The Lord said to Cain:"What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to mefrom the ground" (Gn 4,10).The voice of the blood shed by men continuesto cry out, from generation to generation, in ever new and different ways.
The Lord's question: "What have you done?",which Cain cannot escape, is addressed also to the people of today, to makethem realize the extent and gravity of the attacks against life which continueto mark human history; to make them discover what causes these attacks andfeeds them; and to make them ponder seriously the consequences which derivefrom these attacks for the existence of individuals and peoples.
Some threats come from nature itself, but they aremade worse by the culpable indifference and negligence of those who could insome cases remedy them. Others are the result of situations of violence, hatredand conflicting interests, which lead people to attack others through murder,war, slaughter and genocide.
And how can we fail to consider the violence againstlife done to millions of human beings, especially children, who are forced intopoverty, malnutrition and hunger because of an unjust distribution of resourcesbetween peoples and between social classes? And what of the violence inherentnot only in wars as such but in the scandalous arms trade, which spawns themany armed conflicts which stain our world with blood? What of the spreading ofdeath caused by reckless tampering with the world's ecological balance, by thecriminal spread of drugs, or by the promotion of certain kinds of sexualactivity which, besides being morally unacceptable, also involve grave risks tolife? It is impossible to catalogue completely the vast array of threats tohuman life, so many are the forms, whether explicit or hidden, in which theyappear today!
11 Here though we shall concentrateparticular attention on another category of attacks, affecting life in itsearliest and in its final stages, attacks which present new characteristicswith respect to the past and which raise questions of extraordinaryseriousness. It is not only that in generalized opinion these attacks tend nolonger to be considered as "crimes"; paradoxically they assume thenature of "rights", to the point that the State is called upon togive them legal recognition and to make them available through the freeservices of health-care personnel. Such attacks strike human life at the timeof its greatest frailty, when it lacks any means of self-defence. Even moreserious is the fact that, most often, those attacks are carried out in the veryheart of and with the complicity of the family-the family which by its natureis called to be the "sanctuary of life".
How did such a situation come about? Many differentfactors have to be taken into account. In the background there is the profoundcrisis of culture, which generates scepticism in relation to the veryfoundations of knowledge and ethics, and which makes it increasingly difficultto grasp clearly the meaning of what man is, the meaning of his rights and hisduties. Then there are all kinds of existential and interpersonal difficulties,made worse by the complexity of a society in which individuals, couples andfamilies are often left alone with their problems. There are situations ofacute poverty, anxiety or frustration in which the struggle to make ends meet,the presence of unbearable pain, or instances of violence, especially againstwomen, make the choice to defend and promote life so demanding as sometimes toreach the point of heroism.
All this explains, at least in part, how the value oflife can today undergo a kind of "eclipse", even though consciencedoes not cease to point to it as a sacred and inviolable value, as is evidentin the tendency to disguise certain crimes against life in its early or finalstages by using innocuous medical terms which distract attention from the factthat what is involved is the right to life of an actual human person.
12 In fact, while the climate ofwidespread moral uncertainty can in some way be explained by the multiplicityand gravity of today's social problems, and these can sometimes mitigate thesubjective responsibility of individuals, it is no less true that we areconfronted by an even larger reality, which can be described as a veritablestructure of sin. This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culturewhich denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable"culture of death". This culture is actively fostered by powerfulcultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of societyexcessively concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from this pointof view, it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerfulagainst the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and careis considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is thereforerejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or,more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style ofthose who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resistedor eliminated. In this way a kind of "conspiracy against life" isunleashed. This conspiracy involves not only individuals in their personal,family or group relationships, but goes far beyond, to the point of damagingand distorting, at the international level, relations between peoples andStates.
13 In order to facilitate thespread of abortion, enormous sums of money have been invested and continue tobe invested in the production of pharmaceutical products which make it possibleto kill the fetus in the mother's womb without recourse to medical assistance.On this point, scientific research itself seems to be almost exclusivelypreoccupied with developing products which are ever more simple and effectivein suppressing life and which at the same time are capable of removing abortionfrom any kind of control or social responsibility.
It is frequently asserted that contraception, if madesafe and available to all, is the most effective remedy against abortion. TheCatholic Church is then accused of actually promoting abortion, because sheobstinately continues to teach the moral unlawfulness of contraception. Whenlooked at carefully, this objection is clearly unfounded. It may be that manypeople use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation ofabortion. But the negative values inherent in the "contraceptivementality"-which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived inrespect for the full truth of the conjugal act-are such that they in factstrengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church's teaching oncontraception is rejected. Certainly, from the moral point of viewcontraception and abortion arespecifically different evils: the formercontradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression ofconjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being; the formeris opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the latter is opposed to thevirtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment "You shallnot kill".
But despite their differences of nature and moralgravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits ofthe same tree. It is true that in many cases contraception and even abortionare practised under the pressure of real- life difficulties, which nonethelesscan never exonerate from striving to observe God's law fully. Still, in verymany other instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentalityunwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply aself-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle topersonal fulfilment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thusbecomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the onlypossible decisive response to failed contraception.
The close connection which exists, in mentality,between the practice of contraception and that of abortion is becomingincreasingly obvious. It is being demonstrated in an alarming way by thedevelopment of chemical products, intrauterine devices and vaccines which,distributed with the same ease as contraceptives, really act as abortifacientsin the very early stages of the development of the life of the new human being.
14 The various techniques ofartificial reproduction, which would seem to be at the service of life andwhich are frequently used with this intention, actually open the door to newthreats against life. Apart from the fact that they are morally unacceptable,since they separate procreation from the fully human context of the conjugalact, 14 these techniques have a high rate of failure: not just failurein relation to fertilization but with regard to the subsequent development ofthe embryo, which is exposed to the risk of death, generally within a veryshort space of time. Furthermore, the number of embryos produced is oftengreater than that needed for implantation in the woman's womb, and theseso-called "spare embryos" are then destroyed or used for researchwhich, under the pretext of scientific or medical progress, in fact reduceshuman life to the level of simple "biological material" to be freelydisposed of.
Prenatal diagnosis, which presents no moral objectionsif carried out in order to identify the medical treatment which may be neededby the child in the womb, all too often becomes an opportunity for proposingand procuring an abortion. This is eugenic abortion, justified in publicopinion on the basis of a mentality-mistakenly held to be consistent with thedemands of "therapeutic interventions"-which accepts life only undercertain conditions and rejects it when it is affected by any limitation,handicap or illness.
Following this same logic, the point has been reachedwhere the most basic care, even nourishment, is denied to babies born withserious handicaps or illnesses. The contemporary scene, moreover, is becomingeven more alarming by reason of the proposals, advanced here and there, tojustify even infanticide, following the same arguments used to justify theright to abortion. In this way, we revert to a state of barbarism which onehoped had been left behind forever.
15 Threats which are no lessserious hang over the incurably ill and the dying. In a social and culturalcontext which makes it more difficult to face and accept suffering, thetemptation becomes all the greater to resolve the problem of suffering byeliminating it at the root, by hastening death so that it occurs at the momentconsidered most suitable.
Various considerations usually contribute to such adecision, all of which converge in the same terrible outcome. In the sickperson the sense of anguish, of severe discomfort, and even of desperationbrought on by intense and prolonged suffering can be a decisive factor. Such asituation can threaten the already fragile equilibrium of an individual'spersonal and family life, with the result that, on the one hand, the sickperson, despite the help of increasingly effective medical and social assistance,risks feeling overwhelmed by his or her own frailty; and on the other hand,those close to the sick person can be moved by an understandable even ifmisplaced compassion. All this is aggravated by a cultural climate which failsto perceive any meaning or value in suffering, but rather considers sufferingthe epitome of evil, to be eliminated at all costs. This is especially the casein the absence of a religious outlook which could help to provide a positiveunderstanding of the mystery of suffering.
On a more general level, there exists in contemporaryculture a certain Promethean attitude which leads people to think that they cancontrol life and death by taking the decisions about them into their own hands.What really happens in this case is that the individual is overcome and crushedby a death deprived of any prospect of meaning or hope. We see a tragicexpression of all this in the spread of euthanasia-disguised and surreptitious,or practised openly and even legally. As well as for reasons of a misguidedpity at the sight of the patient's suffering, euthanasia is sometimes justifiedby the utilitarian motive of avoiding costs which bring no return and whichweigh heavily on society. Thus it is proposed to eliminate malformed babies,the severely handicapped, the disabled, the elderly, especially when they arenot self-sufficient, and the terminally ill. Nor can we remain silent in theface of other more furtive, but no less serious and real, forms of euthanasia.These could occur for example when, in order to increase the availability oforgans for transplants, organs are removed without respecting objective andadequate criteria which verify the death of the donor.
16 Another present-day phenomenon,frequently used to justify threats and attacks against life, is the demographicquestion. This question arises in different ways in different parts of theworld. In the rich and developed countries there is a disturbing decline orcollapse of the birthrate. The poorer countries, on the other hand, generallyhave a high rate of population growth, difficult to sustain in the context oflow economic and social development, and especially where there is extremeunderdevelopment. In the face of over- population in the poorer countries, insteadof forms of global intervention at the international level-serious family andsocial policies, programmes of cultural development and of fair production anddistribution of resources-anti-birth policies continue to be enacted.
Contraception, sterilization and abortion arecertainly part of the reason why in some cases there is a sharp decline in thebirthrate. It is not difficult to be tempted to use the same methods andattacks against life also where there is a situation of "demographic explosion".
The Pharaoh of old, haunted by the presence andincrease of the children of Israel, submitted them to every kind of oppressionand ordered that every male child born of the Hebrew women was to be killed(cf. Ex Ex 1,7-22). Today not a few of the powerful of the earth act in the sameway. They too are haunted by the current demographic growth, and fear that themost prolific and poorest peoples represent a threat for the well-being andpeace of their own countries. Consequently, rather than wishing to face andsolve these serious problems with respect for the dignity of individuals andfamilies and for every person's inviolable right to life, they prefer topromote and impose by whatever means a massive programme of birth control. Eventhe economic help which they would be ready to give is unjustly madeconditional on the acceptance of an anti-birth policy.
17 Humanity today offers us a trulyalarming spectacle, if we consider not only how extensively attacks on life arespreading but also their unheard-of numerical proportion, and the fact thatthey receive widespread and powerful support from a broad consensus on the partof society, from widespread legal approval and the involvement of certainsectors of health-care personnel.
As I emphatically stated at Denver, on the occasionof the Eighth World Youth Day, "with time the threats against life havenot grown weaker. They are taking on vast proportions. They are not onlythreats coming from the outside, from the forces of nature or the ?Cains' whokill the ?Abels'; no, they are scientifically and systematically programmedthreats. The twentieth century will have been an era of massive attacks onlife, an endless series of wars and a continual taking of innocent human life.False prophets and false teachers have had the greatestsuccess".15 Aside from intentions, which can be varied and perhapscan seem convincing at times, especially if presented in the name ofsolidarity, we are in fact faced by an objective "conspiracy againstlife", involving even international Institutions, engaged in encouragingand carrying out actual campaigns to make contraception, sterilization andabortion widely available. Nor can it be denied that the mass media are oftenimplicated in this conspiracy, by lending credit to that culture which presentsrecourse to contraception, sterilization, abortion and even euthanasia as amark of progress and a victory of freedom, while depicting as enemies offreedom and progress those positions which are unreservedly pro-life.