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Health care is not a business, but a service to life, pope says


Pope Francis greets a person in a wheelchair Feb. 10 during a Vatican audience with people attending a meeting on health care ministry. The pope said a nation's health care system cannot be run simply as a business because human lives are at stake. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A nation's health care system cannot be run simply as a business because human lives are at stake, Pope Francis said.

"If there is a sector in which the 'throwaway culture' demonstrates its most painful consequences, it is the health care sector," the pope told patients, medical professionals, pastors and volunteers attending a meeting sponsored by the Italian bishops' national office for health care ministry.

Anticipating the celebration Feb. 12 of the World Day of the Sick and marking the 20th anniversary of the bishops' office, the pope said Catholics obviously give thanks for the advances in medicine and technology that have enabled doctors to cure or provide better care for the sick.

He also praised medical personnel who carry out their work as "ministers of life and participants in the affectionate love of God the creator. Each day their hands touch the suffering body of Christ, and this is a great honor and a great responsibility," he said.

But, the pope said, any public policy or private initiative regarding health care that does not make the dignity of the human person its central concern "engenders attitudes that can even lead to exploitation of the misfortune of others. And this is very serious."

"Indiscriminately adopting a business model in health care, instead of optimizing resources," he said, risks treating some of the sick as disposable. "Optimizing resources means using them in an ethical way, with solidarity, and not penalizing the most fragile."

Protecting human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death means that "money alone cannot guide political and administrative choices" in health care, he said. And the increasing lack of health care "among the poorest segments of the population, due to lack of access to care, must leave no one indifferent."

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