VATICAN CITY — On Friday, Pope Francis told participants in a Vatican stem-cell summit that a renewed sense of empathy ought to fuel their work and research, ensuring that no person goes without access to proper care.
“It is fundamentally important that we promote greater empathy in society and not remain indifferent to our neighbor’s cry for help, including when he or she is suffering from a rare disease,” the Pope said April 29.
While it’s not always possible to find a fast cure to complex diseases, it is possible to be prompt in caring for the people that suffer from them, who often feel “abandoned and ignored,” Francis said.
He stressed the need to be attentive to all, regardless of their culture, social standing or religious beliefs, and expressed his hope that individuals in developing countries would also have access to the care they need.
Pointing to his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the Pope noted how he emphasized the value of human progress made in fields such as health care, education and communications, while at the same time stressing the need to oppose “an economy of exclusion and inequality.”
This mentality “victimizes people when the mechanism of profit prevails over the value of human life,” he said, adding that “this is why the globalization of indifference must be countered by the globalization of empathy.”
Pope Francis spoke to participants at an April 28-30 conference at the Vatican entitled “Cellular Horizons: How Science, Technology, Information and Communication Will Impact Society.”
Co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the U.S.-based Stem for Life Foundation, a nonprofit based in New York that promotes healing treatments with the use of adult stem cells, the event is the third conference that has been organized in the Vatican on regenerative medicine that is rooted in Church teaching. The first was held in 2011 and the second in 2013.
A large part of this year’s discussion is focused on rare diseases that affect children, as well as how to make top-of-the-line treatments available to people in developing countries.
The conference gathers scientists, physicians, patients, religious leaders, philanthropists and government officials to discuss healing options that involve stem-cell therapy specifically with the use adult stem cells.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau passed away from brain cancer last year, was also present as a VIP guest and speaker as part of his “Moonshot” campaign tour to promote a cure for cancer.
Pope Francis spoke to participants after Biden’s keynote speech on the second day of the conference, recognizing how, in in their discussions, the participants have been sure to take ethical, anthropological, social and cultural questions into consideration, as well as “the complex problem of access to care for those afflicted by rare conditions.”
Many patients “are often not given sufficient attention, because investing in them is not expected to produce substantial economic returns,” he said, noting that he frequently meets people suffering from these diseases in his ministry.
“These illnesses affect millions of people throughout the world and cause suffering and anxiety for all those who care for them, starting with family members.”
Francis said that in addition to the sense of empathy for those who suffer from rare diseases and ensuring that each person has access to the needed care, another aspect of treatment involves research, which is carried out through both “education and genuine scientific study.”
“Today more than ever we see the urgent need for an education that not only develops students’ intellectual abilities, but also ensures integral human formation and a professionalism of the highest degree,” the Pope said.
He said that coming from this “pedagogical perspective,” it is necessary in both medical and life sciences to offer interdisciplinary courses that provide the needed space “for a human formation supported by ethical criteria.”
“Research, whether in academia or industry, requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person,” he said.
Pope Francis stressed that each person throughout the world is called to draw attention to the issue of rare diseases, to invest in education and to increase funding for research on causes and cures.
It’s also important to promote necessary legislation as “an economic paradigm shift,” he said, because “in this way, the centrality of the human person will be rediscovered.”
The Pope concluded his speech by encouraging the participants to continue to integrate more people and institutions throughout the world into their work and prayed that during the Jubilee of Mercy they would be “capable and generous cooperators with the Father’s mercy.”