Speech at the Conference of Abrahamic Monotheistic Religions
on Matters Concerning the End of Life
Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, MCCJ
28 October 2019
Distinguished leaders of various religions, honourable participants and guests present today for this Ceremony of the signing of the document “Ecumenical Declaration on End-of-Life”, I wish to thank first H. Excellency Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and H. Excellency Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, for making this meeting possible.
As believers in God, Judaism, Christianism and Islam we have an enormous task before us, that is to contribute in the form of moral guidance to our contemporary world which is increasingly having difficulty to understand and defend the nature of end-of-life, and thus affords an invitation to our authentic dialogue among believers in the One God.
For our part, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is totally committed to promote this dialogue with representatives of other religions and, knowing well, how we are at a crossroads: somehow, depending on dialogue becomes the choice between life and death. To continue to promote conflict on this critical point is surely the path that leads to death.
How then does dialogue relate to the question that today concerns us regarding the understanding of the end of life? Dialogue is based on the “relational” identity of the human being, a creature in the image of God, a creature who knows the source of life. Our death, like life, is not a moment “unrelated” to our life but, on the contrary, the culmination and full integration of life. The belief in life after death is common to all three Abrahamic religions. For we Christians, life’s end is the mystery of Christ in which the promise of Resurrection and eternal life is fulfilled.
But there are grey areas which require discernment based on faith. And we know them: the ambiguity of the euthanasia that brings the debate to anticipate the end of a life when the unsustainability of illness or old age is evident. These are grave decisions with moral consequences. Today, the laws of many nations regarding a decision of assisted death in our societies tends to use the reality of religious pluralism as well as the overbearing nature of secular pluralism, to eliminate all sanctions for the protection of life. The economic factor of natural death presses for a decision to assume less and less the economic weight of care for the protection of life and dignity of life for one nearing death, imposing a sort of selective policy at the expense of the person. Another factor, is that of the so-called “right-to-die”, reduces the role of doctors without any reference to the competency of the person to make such a decision for themselves.
The desire to die when death seems imminent is not infrequently the result of an unjust and inhuman situation from all points of view. Guilt felt in the sense of burdening society and/or family is often a overriding factor. Yet, the tradition of the Abrahamic religions is that, in reality, the sick or the dying person needs love, affection, and human warmth. For this reason, the Abrahamic religions support in their long tradition that our dying process and death are the supreme act of each person’s life.
As we have seen in the Document on Human Fraternity recently signed in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, the dignity of each life is primary. I quote, “Indeed, everyone must safeguard this gift of life from its beginning up to its natural end. We therefore condemn all those practices that are a threat to life such as genocide, acts of terrorism, forced displacement, human trafficking, abortion and euthanasia. We likewise condemn the policies that promote these practices.
I feel very encouraged in our common heritage as believers; we as Christians are aware of the common origin and common destiny of humanity, as you, Jews and Muslims, are as well; we accompany each other in this very special fraternal journey toward eternity and our Creator.