Neglect of the Mentally Ill and the Lure of Euthanasia
Interview With Francesco Previte of "Christians for Service"
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ROME, OCT. 26, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The president of the Christians for Service association has petitioned the European Parliament to reform the norms on mental health and to reject euthanasia.
In this interview with ZENIT, Francesco Felice Previte explains the motivations and objectives of his group and the meaning of the petition.
Q: Why did you found Christians for Service?
Previte: To respond to a grave and urgent social malaise, namely, the situation of the mentally ill. Together with many collaborators, I have presented petitions to the Italian and European Parliaments for the reform of psychiatric care.
Q: On September 6 the European Parliament issued a note welcoming the "Green Book" of the Mental Health Commission, and underlining that priority must be given to the struggle against the discrimination suffered by people with mental pathologies. This is why a reform of the mental health services is requested, so that they will be based on quality care, in the family or appropriate centers. What is your opinion on this?
Previte: Finally, on October 10, 2005, the European Commission presented a consultation document entitled "Green Book: Improving the Mental Health of the Population: Toward a Strategy on Mental Health in Europe."
Our association Christians for Service, with my signature, wished to participate on October 26, 2005, sending its observations and opinions on the "Green Book," included in the European Commission's examination No. R-158.
The objective is to initiate a widespread consultation on the importance of mental health according to several objectives of EU strategic policy, such as the promotion of solidarity and social justice to contribute tangible advantages to citizens' quality of life and the need for an EU strategy on mental health and its possible priorities.
I believe moreover that all that "the European Parliament requests from the member states in terms of cooperation to update and implement effective strategies" is necessary due to this grave, urgent and general social malaise, above all in those member states that have abused psychiatry in the use of drugs, forced admission to psychiatric centers or inhuman practices such as the use of cage beds or isolation cells.
Given the complex problems relative to the care of citizens' health and the higher principle of the centrality of the person -- attested also by the project of the European Constitution -- we express once again our heartfelt gratitude for the words of support, denunciation and commitment addressed to the national and international community by the bishops and the Apostolic See, and invite them to act in urgent and purposeful ways for a radical legislative and institutional change.
Q: What is the role of the Church in the treatment of the mentally ill?
Previte: We must remember that the founders of religious orders -- St. John of God, St. Camillus of Lellis, St. Vincent de Paul, and in modern times the Societies of Don Orione, Don Guanella and the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God -- have been dedicated in a laudable way to the incurably ill, especially to people with mental ailments.
Among the initiatives of Popes, John Paul II's words come to mind: "Mental illness does not create insuperable chasms or impede relations of genuine Christian charity." And the appeal of the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, during the international symposium "Dignity and the Rights of the Mentally Handicapped Person," in which he called for "juridical protections capable of responding to the needs and dynamics of growth of the handicapped person and of those who share his situation, beginning with his relatives."
The Holy Father Benedict XVI addressed psychic disturbance in his December 16, 2005, Message for the 14th World Day of the Sick, speaking of "a real social-health care emergency," calling for defined legislation for mental health for all those countries where it does not exist or is partially in force, or where it is "lacking, inadequate or in a state of decay," and hoping for the growth of "suitable laws and health-care programs which provide sufficient resources for their practical application."
Q: What do you think of the recent proposals calling for the "right to euthanasia"?
Previte: For a long time, there have been attempts to legalize euthanasia. Sadly, there are those who would push society to be selective about the life and death of its members, through a license to kill, which is in conflict with the teachings of Hippocrates, the father of medicine.
The duty of the doctor is to protect health, cure sicknesses, relieve suffering, to comfort while respecting the freedom and dignity of the person.
The way the debate has been presented runs the grave risk of considering so-called mercy for unbearable sufferings as an instrument that leads to the elimination of a life that would no longer have value. These are very dangerous considerations because they might involve the mentally-physically handicapped people, terminal patients and elderly people who are not self-sufficient.
In terms of international legislation, the euthanasia proposals are in conflict with the European Convention of 1999 which expressly vetoes all forms of euthanasia, as well as the 1987 declaration of Madrid, and the 1992 declaration of Marbella of the International Medical Association, in which it manifested itself against the introduction of euthanasia.
Recommendation No. 776/1976 of the Council of Europe's Assembly states that the doctor must placate the sufferings and has no right to accelerate the process of death.
I would like to quote a decision of the German Federal Administrative Court [dated] January 16, 1964, which rejects the principle of euthanasia and the legalization of putting mental patients to death, since "all men, including those who are sick in their mental constitution, have the right to be respected in their human dignity."