Thursday, March 13, 2008

Holy See Intervention at UN/Geneva, Human Rights Council

Intervention of H.E. Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations at Geneva at the 7th Session of the Human Rights Council, Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development
11 March 2008

Mr. President,

The Holy See delegation welcomes the opportunity to offer its observations on the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health[1]. First of all, we are pleased to note that the Report identifies this right as a “fundamental building block of sustainable development, poverty reduction, and economic prosperity.”[2] In a similar manner, Pope Benedict XVI recently affirmed that “[t]he building of a more secure future for the human family means first and foremost working for the integral development of peoples, especially through the provision of adequate health care [and] the elimination of pandemics like AIDS …”[3]

The Report, Mr. President, appropriately calls attention to the single policy framework for health that was embodied in the Declaration of Alma-Ata on primary health care, promulgated, thirty years ago, by the world’s Health Ministers. This framework outlined the underlying principles to assure equitable exercise of the right to health as well as the implementation of essential interventions to assure strong links between health and development.

We note, however, that, in accord with the Constitution of the World Health Organization, the definition of health extends beyond medical interventions and social determinants to include a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”[4] The Holy See recognizes, as well, the need to assure access to spiritual assistance among those conditions which guarantee the full enjoyment of the right to health.[5]

The Report refers to the WHO definition of “health systems” that includes “all organizations, people, and actions whose primary intent is to promote, restore, or maintain health.” [6] Moreover, while discussing the pre-conditions for a “right-to-health” approach that strengthens health systems, he points out the entitlement of all individuals and communities to active and informed participation on issues relating to their health. In this regard, Mr. President, my delegation would like to focus on the key role that can and should be accorded to religious organizations as important stakeholders in the strengthening of health infrastructure.

Such organizations often assume significant responsibility for the burden of health care delivery, most especially to the poorest sectors of the population and to those living in rural areas. Too often, however, these faith-based service providers are not allowed a “place at the table” during the formulation of health care plans on national or local levels. They also are deprived of an equitable share in the resources – both from the national/local budgets and from international donors. Such funding is essential to facilitate the maintenance of ongoing health systems; the training, recruitment, and retention of professional staff; as well as the scaling up necessary to address the ever-increasing burden of global pandemics such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, and other infections and non-communicable diseases that disproportionately affect the poorest sectors of society.

Mr. President, my delegation was pleased to note, in this Report, the inclusion of “non-discrimination” among the core obligations of health systems and the emphasis on the obligation of States to address the particular needs of disadvantaged individuals, communities, and populations and to reach out to those living in poverty.[7]

With regard to those who require special protection, let us never ignore or deny the very right to life among those whose conditions are most vulnerable and may entirely depend on being safeguarded by others. Particular cases in point are children in the womb and those suffering from grave and life-threatening illnesses. My Delegation urgently hopes that references to “emergency obstetric care” will never be misconstrued to justify the forced ending of human life before birth and that the reference to a state’s obligation to “identify a minimum ‘basket’ of health services”[8] and to “striking balances”[9] will not be interpreted in a manner that denies essential services to the seriously ill. While the report claims that “few human rights are absolute,”[10] it is the firm belief of my delegation, Mr. President, that no compromise can be made with a person’s right to life itself, from conception to natural death, nor with that person’s ability to enjoy the dignity which flows from that right.

In conclusion, we note that the Report gave due recognition to “health as a public good” which requires “international cooperation” on “trans-boundary health issues.” Urgent attention much be accorded to such issues since, in many countries, refugees, other migrants, and internally-displaced persons are deprived by host governments even of the most basic life-saving health services. In an attempt to fill such gaps, once again religious organizations often provide care, support, and treatment to such populations without concern for their national or ethnic origins.

Thank you.

[1] Document A/HRC/7/11, 31 January 2008.
[2] Ibid., #12.
[3] Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to H.E. Mrs. Mary Ann Glendon, Ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See, 29 February 2008,
[4] Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19 June - 22 July 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.
[5] Charter for Health Care Workers, #40, Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, Vatican City, 1995.
[6] Document A/HRC/7/11, 31 January 2008, #34.
[7] Ibid., #51.
[8] Ibid., #52.
[9] Ibid., #63.
[10] Ibid., #63.


8 MAR 2008 (VIS) -
Made public today was a statement given by Msgr. Renato Volante, Holy See permanent observer to the United Nations Organisation for Food and Agriculture (FAO), during the 29th FAO Regional Conference for the Near East held in Cairo, Egypt from 1 to 5 March. In his English-language address, which was entitled "Promoting food security with particular attention for the situation of smallholders", Msgr. Volante indicated that t he Holy See "pays a particular attention to those initiatives that are carried out at international level trying to solve situations of hunger, food deficiencies, malnutrition, especially when in some areas of the earth an increase of needs occur".

" The situation of food security in the Near East is not without preoccupation even in presence of a general development also on account of food availability destined to people nutrition. Water shortage, besides conditioning the agricultural production, involves the standards of living, with an evident opposition between the real potentialities and the will to take those measures that grant not only nutritional standard and food consumptions but, in a broad sense, social conditions, people health, especially in those areas which are naturally risking desertification. "This could mean to give better attention to the small farmers, often neglected by the institutions and by the co-operation activities. In the same way, some environmental conditions, human-induced factors and animal disease compel nomadic populations to eradicate themselves from their habitat thus forcing them to food production and livelihoods different from their traditions".

"That of the Holy See delegation is an invitation to focus the results obtained during this conference in a perspective that involves the human being as a whole, recalling those fundamental values of history, different cultures, religious experiences and social life in the Near East Region. These aspects easily express concepts of justice and solidarity to be put into practice in politics, rules and actions to fight poverty in all its material and spiritual dimensions".

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Vatican Aide: Death a Reality, Despite Technology

Vatican Aide: Death a Reality, Despite Technology
Affirms That Palliative Care Headed in Good Direction

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 3, 2008 ( Even in societies marked by great scientific and technological progress, Christians still face the challenge of death and dying well, says Father Federico Lombardi.

The director of the Vatican press office affirmed this on Vatican Television's latest edition of "Octava Dies." The spokesman was commenting on Benedict XVI's Feb. 25 address to the participants in the Pontifical Academy for Life conference on the theme "Close By the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects."

Father Lombardi noted how the Pope asked for "the sincere participation of the Church and society in this ancient but always relevant problem."

"The passage of death, toward which we are all drawing near, is an important moment in our life," he said. "It has a meaning such that every human person should prepare for it and be accompanied in it. Or is this not so?"

Father Lombardi noted, "It is not said that the greater capacity of modern medical science should be employed to help life that is slipping away, inasmuch as this can seem unimportant, above all when it is a matter of people who are poor and alone, people who, from a utilitarian perspective, may appear only to be a burden."

Yet Benedict XVI recalled Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who wanted the poorest of the poor to experience "in the embrace of brothers and sisters the warmth of the Father" who welcomes them.

Nevertheless, Father Lombardi affirmed that the "commitment of palliative medicine to alleviate the suffering of the incurably ill is going in the right direction." And he recalled the Pope's emphasis on the rights of families to assist the terminally ill.

He said: "There is a whole culture of solidarity that must be developed, because," as the Pontiff concluded, "it is a cruel and inhuman society that is unable to accept those who are suffering and is incapable of contributing through compassion so that this suffering can be shared and even born interiorly."

"In this perspective, the Church re-emphasizes its opposition to every form of direct euthanasia," Father Lombardi affirmed. "This is because [the Church] cannot renounce believing in love and hope, in the meaning of suffering and in the transcendent destiny that we all have."