12 October 1985

To the doctors participating in a convention organized by the Italian Pro-Life Movement

Saturday morning, 12 October, Pope John Paul II received in audience the doctors who had attended the recent convention organized by the Italian Pro-Life Movement.  The theme of the convention was “Protection of the health of the expectant mother and of the fetus”.

In his address, the Holy Father reaffirmed the Church’s constant teaching on the sanctity of life and urged the doctors to defend and foster the quality of life.  The text of the Pontiff’s address follows.

Distinguished Gentlemen, dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. I am delighted to find myself among you today at the close of the “International Medical Convention” sponsored by the “Italian Pro-Life Movement”, which has taken place at Fiuggi Terme in collaboration with distinguished representatives of the New Institute of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the University “La Sapienza” of Rome and of the Institute of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the University of the Sacred Heart.

I thank you for this welcome visit and express to you my satisfaction at the choice of the theme.  “Protection of the health of the expectant mother and of the fetus”, with which the presentations and discussions of this important convention of yours were concerned.

Also, I am grateful for the opportunity you offer me to address you, without entering into the specific merit of the questions you considered, on a subject which is at the centre of the Church’s attention and concern:  namely, that of the defence of human life.  I have studied with interest the detailed programme which the organizers of your conference so thoughtfully took care to send to me.  You have touched on aspects of the life of the woman and of the unborn child which merit every consideration, especially since, above and beyond scientific research, the course of a pregnancy, or better, the story of a life which is beginning, finds its raison d’etre in the mysterious plan of God, who is the “Living One” par excellence (cf  Dt 5:23; I Kg 17 1).

2. It is auspicious to see united here for the promotion of the sacrosanct rights of mother and child not only professionals who are inspired by the ideals proclaimed by divine revelation and always championed by the Church, but also those of a different cultural and ideological orientation.  This shows how exalted, indeed unique and unrepeatable, is the value of life.  All people, in fact, no matter what their cultural extraction, feel that this value is fundamental and that no one can deny it without betraying the very cause of man.

However, this reflection becomes even more demanding and exacting for a person of the Bible, that is, for one who accepts the word of God as the norm of life in the light of the Church’s Magisterium.  According to Christian revelation, man is not the master of his own life, but receives the use of it; he is not its owner but its administrator, since God alone is the Lord of life.  In this regard the Old Testament expresses itself in peremptory terms:  “Of your blood, that is to say, of your life, I will demand an account”, says the Lord, “I will demand an account of the life of man at the hand of man, at the hand of every one of his brothers.  If someone sheds the blood of a man, his own blood will be shed by man.  For in the image of God has God made man” (Gen 9: 5-6).  A direct consequence of the divine origin of life is the fact that it is not at one’s free disposal, that it is untouchable, that it is sacred.  “I, I alone am God and there is no other god like me.  It is I who bring death and restore life, it is I who wound and heal and there is no one who can escape my power” (Dt 32;39; Job 12:10; 34: 14).  The entire person, body and soul, belongs to God, therefore he arises as the vindicator of every innocent life which is cut short  “You shall not cause the death of the innocent and the just, for I will not absolve the wicked man” (Ex  20:13).

Such sanctity of human life is clearly restated, always with different accents, in the New Testament.  To the rich young man asking what are the chief commandments for “entering into life”, Jesus responds by indicating “You shall not kill” as the first obligation (Mt 19:18).  Apostolic tradition, in obedience to this decisive norm, proposes the prohibition of homicide within the wider context of the commandment of love:  “Do not owe anything to anyone except the debt of mutual love, for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the Law.  In fact, “You shall not commit adultery”.  “You shall not kill”, “You shall not steal”, “You shall not covet”, and any other precept is summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. “Love does no harm to one’s neighbour” (Rom. 13:8, 10).

3. Faithful to this biblical tradition, the Church has not ceased through the centuries to work with all the means at its disposal to defend human life at whatever moment in the existence of man and woman, in whatever situation they find themselves.  The Second Vatican Council stated with particular vigour in this regard, “God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the sublime mission of protecting life;  a mission which must be fulfilled in a humane manner.  Consequently, human life must be protected with the greatest care from the moment of its conception” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 51).

4. Dear brothers and sister, in reaffirming these Christian principles, it is comforting to know that the work of you doctors and students of the moral problems connected with your profession is being carried out in this ideal context.  The convention which you have just concluded, directed towards rendering a distinguished contribution to the cause of an ever better human and Christian service to women and to unborn children at such a delicate moment of their existence is proof of this.  I hope that your meetings have also helped to update the more specific aspects of your medical profession and to illuminate ever better your responsibilities before the mystery of life, which you are called to defend from every menace and to foster in its quality.  I would like to hope also that the convention has been of help to you in reacting to certain currents of opinion which seek to influence the consciences of doctors, “to induce them” – as I said in other circumstances – “to offer their services in practices contrary not only to Christian ethics, in open contradiction to their professional moral obligation expressed in the famous oath of the ancient pagan doctor” (Insegnamenti I, 1978, p. 457).

5. Let not the difficulties which you will undoubtedly encounter in one way or another discourage you in this responsibility of yours.  In treating of the cause of man, no sacrifice must be spared, nothing must be left unattempted.  You who are specialists in life, see to it that it flourishes or thrives again in every person.  Thus will you give back the smile to those who have entrusted themselves to your care, and you will also give glory to God, since, as Saint Irenaeus says, “Living man is the glory of God” (Adv Haereses IV, 20, 7).

May the assurance of my prayer for you, which I gladly strengthen with my special blessing, assist you in  your noble effort.

John Paul II