Pope urges Italian doctors to support public health system

Pope Francis greets people at the end of a meeting with to members of the Italian Federation of Pediatric Physicians and the Association of Italian Hospital Otolaryngologists in the Vatican audience hall Nov. 18, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

by Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis pleaded with a group of Italian physicians to defend the country’s national health service, saying that the Italian constitution was correct when it declared health a human right.

And he also insisted that compassion is “an irreplaceable diagnostic tool” in treating their patients.

Pope Francis met Nov. 18 with members of the Italian Federation of Pediatric Physicians and the Association of Italian Hospital Otolaryngologists.

Calling physicians “one of the pillars of the country” and praising the self-giving dedication of medical professions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the pope noted how the Italian health system is now struggling.

“There is a constant shortage of personnel, leading to unmanageable workloads and the consequent flight from the health professions,” he said. And the continuing economic crisis affects the quality of life of patients and doctors: how many early diagnoses are not made? How many people give up on treatment? How many doctors and nurses, disheartened and tired, abandon their profession or prefer to go and work abroad?”

The weakening of the health-care system is undermining the “right to health that is part of the heritage of the social doctrine of the church and is enshrined in the Italian constitution,” the pope said. “Health is a common good.”

Pope Francis urged the physicians to work hard to resist efforts to move toward “only pre-paid medicine or paid medicine and then nothing else. No.”

Speaking directly to the pediatricians, the pope urged them to keep in mind how young couples look to them for help in raising their children.

“Children are always a gift and a blessing from the Lord,” he said. “In the Psalms there is that beautiful image of the family gathered around the table with their children ‘like olive shoots.'”

But unfortunately, he said, Italy is an aging country with a low birth rate. “Let us hope that this trend can be reversed, creating favorable conditions for the young to have more confidence and to rediscover the courage and the joy of becoming parents.”

“Perhaps I should not say this, but I will say it: today people would rather have a puppy than a child,” the pope told them. While the number of pediatricians needed is limited, “that of veterinarians is growing! And this is not a good sign.”

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