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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
Religious Believers

Charter for Health Care Workers

Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance

Table of Contents


After long, careful and multi-discipline preparation, the Charter for Health Care Workers is now being published at the initiative of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers.

Nothing happens by chance in human affairs, and even chronological coincidence can have symbolic meanings. In fact, the awaited document is being published a few months after the institution (February 11, 1994), by the Holy Father, John Paul II, of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which ideally, operatively and in its statutary finality is closely associated with the tasks of the Office for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers.

And this Office cannot but feel flattered that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith approved and quickly confirmed in its entirety the text of the Charter submitted to it: another reason for its full validity and secure authority, but also a concrete proof of the inter-dicastery cooperation expressly desired in the motu proprio which set up the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers.

There are many reasons for recommending a knowledge, the divulgation and the application of the directives contained in this deontological code for those engaged in health care. Its publication fills a lacuna which was strongly felt not only in the Church but also by all those who empathize with the primary task it fulfills of promoting and defending life.

The extraordinary advances of science and technology in the very vast field of health and medicine have produced an independent discipline called bioethics, or ethics of life. This explains why, especially from Pius XII onwards, the magisterium of the Church has intervened with increasing interest, with consistent firmness and ever more explicit directives concerning all the complex problems arising from the indissoluble bond between medicine and morality. None of these problems can be considered neutral at this time in relation to Hippocratic ethics and Christian morality. Hence the requirement, strictly respected in the Charter for Health Care Workers, for an organic and exhaustive synthesis of the Church's position on all that pertains to the affirmation, in the field of health care, of the primary and absolute value of life: of all life and the life of every human being.

Therefore, after an introduction on the figure and essential tasks of health care workers, or better, of the "ministers of life," the Charter gathers its directives around the triple theme of procreation, life and death. And so that-as often happens-doubtful interpretations may not prevail over the objective worth of the contents, in the redaction of the document the interventions of the Supreme Pontiffs and authoritative texts issued by the Offices of the Roman Curia have almost always been quoted directly. These interventions show conclusively that the position of the Church on the fundamental problems of bioethics, while safeguarding the sacred limits imposed by the promotion and defense of life, is highly constructive and open to true progress in science and technology, when this progress is welded to that of civilization.

At the beginning of the Charter the activity of the health care worker is said to be "a form of Christian witness."

Humbly, but also proudly, we can say that this Charter for Health Care Workers is part of the "new evangelization" which, in service to life, especially for those who suffer, has, in imitation of Christ's ministry, its qualifying moment.

The hope then is that this work-tool may become an integral part of the initial and ongoing formation of health care workers, so that their witness may be proof that the Church, in its defense of life, opens its heart and its arms to all people since Christ's message is addressed to all people.

Card. Fiorenzo Angelini
President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers


I. Ministers Of Life

1. The work of health care persons is a very valuable service to life. It expresses a profoundly human and Christian commitment, undertaken and carried out not only as a technical activity but also as one of dedication to and love of neighbor. It is "a form of Christian witness."[1] "Their profession calls for them to be guardians and servants of human life" (Evangelium Vitae 89).

Life is a primary and fundamental good of the human person. Caring for life, then, expresses, first and foremost, a truly human activity in defense of physical life.

It is to this that professional or voluntary health care workers devote their activity. These are doctors, nurses, hospital chaplains, men and women religious, administrators, voluntary care givers for those who suffer, those involved in the diagnosis, treatment and recovery of human health. The principal and symbolic expression of "taking care" is their vigilant and caring presence at the sickbed. It is here that medical and nursing activity expresses its lofty human and Christian value.

2. Health care activity is based on an interpersonal relationship of a special kind. It is "a meeting between trust and conscience."[2] The "trust" of one who is ill and suffering and hence in need, who entrusts himself to the "conscience" of another who can help him in his need and who comes to his assistance to care for him and cure him. This is the health care worker.[3]

For him "the sick person is never merely a clinical case"-an anonymous individual on whom to apply the fruit of his knowledge-"but always a 'sick person,' towards whom" he shows a sincere attitude of "sympathy," in the ethymological sense of the term."[4]

This requires love: availability, attention, understanding, sharing, benevolence, patience, dialogue. "Scientific and professional expertise" is not enough; what is required is "personal empathy with the concrete situations of each patient."[5]

3. To safeguard, recover and better the state of health means serving life in its totality. In fact, "sickness and suffering are phenomena which, when examined in depth, ask questions which go beyond medicine to the essence of the human condition in this world. It is easy to see, therefore, how important in socio-medical service is the presence...of workers who are guided by an holistic human vision of illness and hence can adopt a wholly human approach to the suffering patient."[6]

In this way, the health care worker, if animated by a truly Christian spirit, will more easily become aware of the demanding missionary dimension of his profession: "his entire humanity comes into play" here "and nothing less than complete commitment is required of him."[7]

To speak of mission is to speak of vocation:[8] the response to a transcendent call which takes shape in the suffering and appealing countenance of the patient in his care. To care lovingly for a sick person is to fulfill a divine mission, which alone can motivate and sustain the most disinterested, available and faithful commitment, and gives it a priestly value."[9]"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).... It is precisely in this 'life' that all the aspects and stages of human life achieve their full significance" (Evangelium Vitae 1).

The health care worker is the good Samaritan of the parable, who stops beside the wounded person, becoming his "neighbor in charity (cf. Lk 10:29-37).[10]

4. This means that health-care is a ministerial instrument of God's outpouring love for the suffering person; and, at the same time, it is an act of love of God, shown in the loving care for the person. For the Christian, it is an actualized continuation of the healing love of Christ, who "went about doing good and healing everyone" (Acts 10:38).[11] And at the same time it is love for Christ: he is the sick person-"I was sick"-who assumes the face of a suffering brother; since he considers as done to himself-"you did it to me"-the loving care of one's brother (cf. Mt 25: 3140).[12]

Profession, vocation and mission meet and, in the Christian vision of life and health, they are mutually integrated. Seen in this light, health care assumes a new and more exalted meaning as "service to life" and "healing ministry."[13] Minister of life,[14]the health care worker is "the minister of that God, who in Scripture is presented as 'a lover of life"' (Wis 11:26).[15] To serve life is to serve God in the person: it is to become "a collaborator with God in restoring health to the sick body"[16] and to give praise and glory to God in the loving welcome to life, especially if it be weak and ill.[17]

5. The Church, which considers "service to the sick as an integral part of its mission,"[18] assumes it as an expression of its ministry.[19] "The Church...has always seen medicine as an important support for its own redeeming mission to humanity." In fact, "service to man's spirit cannot be fully effective except it be service to his psycho-physical unity. The Church knows well that physical evil imprisons the spirit, just as spiritual evil subjects the body."[20]

It follows that the <therapeutic ministry> of health care workers is a sharing in the pastoral[21] and evangelizing[22] work of the Church. Service to life becomes a ministry of salvation, that is, a message that activates the redeeming love of Christ. "Doctors, nurses, other health care workers, voluntary assistants, are called to be the living image of Christ and of his Church in loving the sick and the suffering:"[23] witnesses of "the gospel of life."[24]

6. Service to life is such only if it is faithful to the moral law, which expresses exigently its value and its tasks. Besides technico-professional competence, the health care worker has ethical responsibilities. "The ethical law, founded on respect for the dignity of the person and on the rights of the sick, should illuminate and govern both the research phase and the application of the findings."[25] In fidelity to the moral law, the health care worker actuates his fidelity to the human person whose worth is guaranteed by the law, and to God, whose wisdom is expressed by the law.

He draws his behavioral directives from that field of normative ethics which nowadays is called bioethics. Here, with vigilant and careful attention, the magisterium of the Church has intervened, with reference to questions and disputes arising from the biomedical advances and from the changing cultural ethos. This bioethical magisterium is for the health care worker, Catholic or otherwise, a source of principles and norms of conduct which enlighten his conscience and direct him-especially in the complexity of modern bio-technical possibilities-in his choices, always respecting life and its dignity.

7. The continuous progress of medicine demands of the health care worker a thorough preparation and ongoing formation so as to ensure, also by personal studies, the required competence and fitting professional expertise.

Side-by-side with this, they should be given a solid "ethico-religious formation,"[26] which "promotes in them an appreciation of human and Christian values and refines their moral conscience." There is need "to develop in them an authentic faith and a true sense of morality, in a sincere search for a religious relationship with God, in whom all ideals of goodness and truth are based."[27]

"All health care workers should be taught morality and bioethics."[28]To achieve this. those responsible for their formation should endeavor to have chairs and courses in bioethics put in place.

8. Health care workers, especially doctors, cannot be left to their own devices and burdened with unbearable responsibilities when faced with ever more complex and problematic clinical cases arising from biotechnical possibilities-many of which are at an experimental stage-open to modern medicine, and from the socio-medical import of certain questions.

To facilitate choices and to keep a check on them, the setting up of ethical committees in the principal medical centers should be encouraged. In these commissions, medical competence and evaluation is confronted and integrated with that of other presences at the patient's side, so as to safeguard the latter's dignity and medical responsibility itself.[29]

9. The sphere of action of health care workers consists, in general, of what is contained in the terms and concepts of health and medicine especially.

The term and concept of health embraces all that pertains to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for greater equilibrium and the physical, psychic and spiritual well-being of the person. The term and concept of medicine, on the other hand, refers to all that concerns health policy, legislation, programming and structures.[30]

The full concept of health reflects directly on that of medicine. In fact, "institutions are very important and indispensable; however, no institution can of itself substitute for the human heart, human compassion, human love, human initiative, when it is a question of helping another in his suffering."[31]

The meeting and the practical synthesis of the demands and duties arising from the concepts of health and medicine are the basis and way for <humanizing> medicine. This must be present both at the personal-professional level-the doctor-patient relationship-and at the socio-policy level so as to safeguard in institutional and technological structures the human-Christian interests in society and the institutional and technological infrastructures. The first but not without the second, since such humanization as well as being a love-charity task is "an obligation of justice."[32] "[This humanization strengthens] the bases of the 'civilization of life and love,' without which the life of individuals and of society itself loses its most genuinely human quality" (Evangelium Vitae 27).

10. The present charter wants to guarantee the ethical fidelity of the health care worker: the choices and behavior enfleshing service to life. This fidelity is outlined through the stages of human existence: procreation, living, dying, as reference points for ethical-pastoral reflections.

11. "In the biblical narrative, the difference between man and other creatures is shown above all by the fact that only the creation of man is presented as the result of a special decision on the part of God, a deliberation to establish a particular and specific bond with the Creator: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness' (Gen 1:26). The life which God offers to man is a gift by which God shares something of himself with his creature."[33]

"'God himself who said, <t is not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18) and who made man from the beginning male and female (Mt 19:4), wished to share with man a certain participation in his own creative work. Thus he blessed male and female saying: Increase and multiply"'(Gen 1:28). The generation of a new human being is therefore "an event which is deeply human and full of religious meaning, insofar as it involves both the spouses, who form 'one flesh' (Gen 2:24), and God who makes himself present."[34]

Health care workers lend their service when" ever they help the parents to procreate responsibly, supporting the conditions, removing obstacles and protecting them from invasive techniques unworthy of human procreation.
Genetic manipulation
12. The ever-widening knowledge of the human genetic patrimony (genome), the individuation and mapping of the activity of the genes, with the possibility of transferring them, modifying them or substituting them, opens up untold prospects to medicine and at the same time creates new and delicate ethical problems.

In moral evaluation a distinction must be made between strictly therapeutic manipulation, which aims to cure illnesses caused by genetic or chromosome anomalies (genetic therapy), from manipulation altering the human genetic patrimony. A curative intervention, which is also called "genetic surgery," "will be considered desirable in principle. provided its purpose is the real promotion of the personal well-being of the individual, without damaging his integrity or worsening his condition of life."[35]

13. On the other hand, interventions which are not directly curative, the purpose of which is "the production of human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities," which change the genotype of the individual and of the human species, "are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being, to his integrity and to his identity. Therefore they can be in no way justified on the pretext that they will produce some beneficial results for humanity in the future,"[36] "no social or scientific usefulness and no ideological purpose could ever justify an intervention on the human genome unless it be therapeutic, that is its finality must be the natural development of the human being."[37]

14. In any case, this type of intervention "should not prejudice the beginnings of human life, that is, procreation linked to not only the biological but also the spiritual union of the parents, united in the bond of matrimony."[38]

The negative ethical evaluations outlined here apply to all genetic manipulatory interventions concerned with embryos. On the other hand there are no moral objections to the manipulation of human body cells for curative purposes and the manipulation of animal or vegetable cells for pharmaceutical purposes.
Fertility control

15. "Without intending to underestimate the other ends of marriage, it must be said that true married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it is directed to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day to day."[39] "When a new person is born of the conjugal union of the two, he brings with him into the world a particular image and likeness of God himself: the genealogy of the person is inscribed in the very biology of generation. In affirming that the spouses, as parents, cooperate with God the Creator in conceiving and giving birth to a new human being, we are not speaking merely with reference to the laws of biology.... Begetting is the continuation of Creation."[40]

"Those are considered to exercise responsible parenthood who prudently and generously decide to have a large family, or who, for serious reasons and with due respect for the moral law, choose to have no more children for the time being or even for an indeterminate period."[41] In the latter case there is the problem of birth control.

16. In evaluating behavior with regard to this control, the moral judgment "does not depend solely on good intentions and on the evaluation of motives; it is determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the dignity of the human person and human action."[42] It is a question of the dignity of the man and the woman and of their most intimate relationship. Respect for this dignity shows the truth of their married love.

With regard to the marriage act, this expresses "the indissoluble bond between the two meanings of the act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning."[43] In fact, the acts by which the partners fully express themselves and which intensify their union are the same ones that generate life and vice-versa.[44]

Love which uses "body language" to express itself is at once unitive and procreative: "it clearly implies both spousal and parental significance."[45]

This bond is intrinsic to the marriage act: "man may not break it on his own initiative," without denying the dignity proper to the person and "the inner truth of married love."[46]

17. Therefore, while it is lawful, for grave reasons, to take advantage of a knowledge of the woman's fertility and forego the use of marriage in the fertile periods, recourse to contraceptive practice is illicit.[47]

Natural methods imply a marriage act which, on the one hand does not result in a new life and which, on the other hand, is still intrinsically life-directed.[48] "It is precisely this respect which makes legitimate, at the service of responsible procreation, the use of natural methods of regulating fertility. From the scientific point of view, these methods are becoming more and more accurate and make it possible in practice to make choices in harmony with moral values."[49]

Artificial means contradict "the nature of the man and the woman and of their most intimate relationship."[50] Here sexual union is separated from procreation: the act is deprived of its natural openness to life. "Thus the original import of human sexuality is distorted and falsified, and the two meanings, unitive and procreative, inherent in the very nature of the conjugal act, are artificially separated: in this way the marriage union is betrayed and its fruitfulness is subjected to the caprice of the couple."[51]

This occurs in "every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible."[52]

18. Here, then, is "the difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle."[53]

"It is not a distinction simply of techniques or methods, where the decisive element would be the artificial or natural character of the procedure. "[54] It is a difference involving "two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality."[55]

The "difference," then, must be recognized and illustrated: "The ultimate reason for every natural method is not just its effectiveness or biological reliability, but its consistency with the Christian vision of sexuality as expressive of married love."[56]"It is frequently asserted that contraception, if made safe and available to all, is the most effective remedy against abortion.... When looked at carefully, this objection is clearly unfounded.... Indeed, the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church's teaching on contraception is rejected."[57]

19. Rather than directions for use, natural methods are in keeping with the meaning of conjugal love, which gives direction to the life of the couple: "The choice of the natural rhythms involves accepting the cycle of the person, that is the woman, and thereby accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self-control.... In this context...conjugal communion is enriched with those values of tenderness and affection which constitute the inner soul of human sexuality, in its physical dimension also."[58]

20. Health care workers can contribute, when opportunities occur in their field, towards an acceptance of this human and Christian concept of sexuality by making available to married people, and even before that to young people, the required information for responsible behavior, respectful of the special dignity of human sexuality.[59]

This is why the Church appeals to their "responsibility" in "effectively helping couples to live their love with respect for the structures and finalities of the conjugal act which expresses that love."[60]
Artificial procreation

21. The application to humans of biotechnology learned from animal fertilization has made possible various interventions in human procreation, giving rise to serious questions of moral lawfulness. "The various <techniques of artificial reproduction>, which would seem to be at the service of life and which are frequently used with this intention, actually open the door to new threats against life."[61]

The evaluative ethical criterion must take account of the originality of human procreation, which "derives from the originality itself of the human person."[62] "Nature itself dictates that the transmission of human life be a personal and conscious act and, as such, subject to the most holy laws of God: immutable and inviolable laws which must be acknowledged and observed."[63] This personal act is the intimate union of the love of the spouses who, in giving themselves completely to each other, give life. It is a single, indivisible act, at once unitive and procreative, conjugal and parental.[64]

This act-"an expression of the reciprocal gift which, in the words of Scripture, brings about a union 'in one flesh"'[65]-is the source of life.

22. Humans are not at liberty to be ignorant of and to ignore the meanings and values intrinsic to human life from its very beginning. "And therefore means cannot be used nor laws followed which may be licit in the transmission of animal or vegetable life."[66] The dignity of the human person demands that it come into being as a gift of God and as the fruit of the conjugal act, which is proper and specific to the unitive and procreative love between the spouses, an act which of its very nature is irreplaceable.

Every means and medical intervention, in the field of procreation, must always be by way of assistance and never substitution of the marriage act. In fact, "the doctor is at the service of people and human procreation: he has no authority to do as he wills with them or to make decisions about them. Medical intervention respects the dignity of the persons when it aims at helping the marriage act.... On the contrary, sometimes medical intervention replaces the conjugal act.... In this case, the medical action is not, as it should be, at the service of the marriage union, but it appropriates the procreative function and thus is contrary to the dignity and inalienable rights of the spouses and of the expected child."[67]

23. "The use of such artificial means is not necessarily forbidden if their function is merely to facilitate the natural act, or to ensure that a normally performed act reaches its proper end."[68]This is homologous artificial insemination, that is, within matrimony with the semen of the partner, when this is obtained through a normal marriage act.

24. But homologous FIVET (Fertilization in vitro with embryo transfer) is illicit because conception is not the result of a conjugal act-"the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between the spouses"[69]-but outside it: in vitro through techniques which determine the conditions and decide the effect.[70]This is not in accord with the logic of "donation," proper to human procreation, but "production" and "dominion," proper to things and effects. In this case the child is not born as a "gift" of love, but as a laboratory "product."[71]

Of itself, FIVET "separates the acts which are destined for human procreation in the conjugal act," an act which is "indissolubly corporeal and spiritual." Fertilization takes place outside the bodies of the spouses. It is not "actually effected nor positively willed as an expression of and fruit of the specific act of conjugal union," but as a "result" of a technical intervention.[72]"[Man] no longer considers life as a splendid gift of God, something 'sacred' entrusted to his responsibility and thus also to his loving care and 'veneration.' Life itself becomes a mere 'thing,' which man claims as his exclusive property, completely subject to his control and manipulation."[73]

25. The desire for a child, sincere and intense though it be, by the spouses, does not legitimize recourse to techniques which are contrary to the truth of human procreation and to the dignity of the new human being.[74]

The desire for a child gives no right to have a child. The latter is a person, with the dignity of a "subject." As such, it cannot be desired as an "object." The fact is that the child is a subject of rights: the child has the right to be conceived only with full respect for its personhood.[75]

26. Besides these intrinsic reasons of the dignity of the person and its conception, homologous FIVET is also morally inadmissible because of the circumstances and consequences of its present-day practice.

In fact, it is effected at the cost of numerous embryonal losses, which are procured abortions. It could also involve congealment, which means suspension of life, of the so-called "spare" embryos, and often even their destruction.[76]

Unacceptable is "post mortem" insemination, that is, with semen, given during his lifetime, by the deceased spouse.

These are aggravating factors in a technical procedure already morally illicit in itself, and which remains such even without these factors.[77]

27. Heterologous techniques are "burdened" with the "ethical negativity" of conception outside of marriage. Recourse to gametes of people other than the spouses is contrary to the unity of marriage and the fidelity of the spouses, and it harms the right of the child to be conceived and born in and from a marriage. "Procreation then...expresses a desire, or indeed the intention, to have a child 'at all costs,' and not because it signifies the complete acceptance of the other and therefore an openness to the richness of life which the child represents."[78]

These techniques, in fact, ignore the common and unitary vocation of the partners to paternity and maternity-to "become father and mother only through one another"-and they cause "a rupture between genetic parenthood, gestational parenthood and educational responsibility," which, from the family, has repercussions in society.[79]

A further reason for unlawfulness is the commercialization and eugenic selection of the gametes.

28. For the same reasons, aggravated by the absence of the marriage bond, artificial insemination of the unmarried and cohabitants is morally unacceptable.[80]

29. Equally contrary to the dignity of the woman, to the unity of marriage and to the dignity of the procreation of a human person is "surrogate" motherhood.

To implant in a woman's womb an embryo which is genetically foreign to her or just to fertilize her with the condition that she hand over the newly born child to a client means separating gestation from maternity, reducing it to an incubation which does not respect the dignity and right of the child to be "conceived, borne in the womb, brought to birth and educated by its own parents."[81]

30. The verdict of moral unlawfulness obviously concerns the ways by which human fertilization takes place, not the fruit of these techniques, which is always a human being, to be welcomed as a gift of God's goodness and nurtured with love.[82]

31. Artificial insemination techniques nowadays could open the way to attempts or projects of fertilization between human and animal gametes, to gestation of human embryos in animal or artificial wombs, of sexless reproduction of human beings through twinning fission, cloning, parthenogenesis.

Such procedures are contrary to the human dignity of the embryo and of procreation, and thus they are to be considered morally reprehensible.[83]

32. Medicine directed to the integral good of the person cannot prescind from the ethical principles governing human procreation.

Hence the "urgent appeal" to doctors and researchers to give "an exemplary witness of the respect due to the human embryo and to the dignity of procreation."[84]

33. Medical service to life accompanies the life of the person throughout their whole life-span. It is protection, promotion and care of health, that is, of the integrity and psycho-physical well-being of the person, in whom life "is enfleshed."[85]

It is a service based on the dignity of the human person and on the right to life, and it is expressed not only in prevention, treatment and rehabilitation but also in an holistic promotion of the person's health.

34. This responsibility commits the health care worker to a service to life extending "from its very beginning to its natural end," that is, "from the moment of conception to death."[86]


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