In Wake of Euthanasia Case in Peru, Physician-Priest Makes Case for Palliative Care

Meloni said he has personally committed to praying for the family, and especially for Estrada’s soul, appealing 'to the infinite mercy of God.'

Palliative care.
Palliative care. (photo: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock)

Father Augusto Meloni Navarro, a priest, physician, and former vice president of the World Health Organization (WHO), urged prayers for the soul of Ana Estrada, the first person to undergo euthanasia in Peru. Meloni also emphasized the importance of protecting life and providing palliative care in these kinds of situations.

As a Church “we stand in solidarity, we sympathize with every human person in all their circumstances. And, of course, at the moment of transition to a new life, which in cases of desperation, as in the case of this person, our sister, and her family, probably calls for more prayer,” Meloni said in an interview with EWTN Noticias, the Spanish-language broadcast edition of EWTN News.

Estrada was a 47-year-old Peruvian psychologist and activist who suffered from polymyositis — an incurable disease that left her confined to a wheelchair — and who underwent euthanasia on Sunday, April 21. The procedure was carried out in accordance with a plan approved by Peru’s Social Health Insurance (EsSalud), but it was not specified whether she died by direct euthanasia or medically assisted suicide.

Euthanasia is not legal in Peru. However, in 2022 the judiciary ruled in favor of Estrada so that in her case Article 112 of the current Penal Code “would be unenforced.” The code punishes anyone who “out of pity, kills an incurably ill person” with a prison sentence of no more than three years.

Meloni said he has personally committed to praying for the family, and especially for Estrada’s soul, appealing “to the infinite mercy of God.”

“I pray that in those last mysterious seconds of slipping away and the passage from the present life to a new life” that this person could be saved “so that she could truly find life.”

“We are also going to pray that the Lord increase the faith, if they have it, of those people who in some way have been involved in this very painful outcome, as well as of all the people who may mistakenly think that some progress is being made here, some progress in freedom, for the good, and we know from experience that these issues can often be manipulated and [people] not even being treated with respect. And that is why we are going to pray,” he added.

In early April, the Vatican published the declaration Dignitatis Infinita, which warns of 13 grave violations of human dignity, one of which is euthanasia. 

The document, which encourages palliative care for patients, emphasizes that “suffering does not cause the sick to lose their dignity, which is intrinsically and inalienably their own” and points out that “helping the suicidal person to take his or her own life is an objective offense against the dignity of the person asking for it, even if one would be thereby fulfilling the person’s wish.”

Meloni noted that when we lose “sight of the dignity of the human person, [who is made in] the image of God and loved by Jesus Christ, we tend to treat people as things.”

“We also tend to view human pain and suffering superficially. Life goes beyond the biological. It’s a dimension that is revealed in Jesus Christ, who shows us the meaning of suffering and human dignity,” he explained.

He assured that, as a doctor and priest, he understands “that life goes beyond what is taught at the university.” 

“Life is Jesus Christ, and he shows us that pain does not destroy our dignity but is part of the path to its fulfillment [in eternal life],” he said.

The Importance of Palliative Care

The former vice president of the World Health Organization acknowledged that Estrada faced for decades a serious illness “not yet understood by science and without a cure.” However, he noted that there is palliative care available for this type of illness.

“Palliative care helps people cope with these difficult situations. Science, technology, and medicine have advanced a lot in this field,” he commented, while adding that it is also “insufficient.”

The reason, according to Meloni, is that palliative care must include a spiritual dimension: “spiritual assistance, everything that the Lord has left us through his Church so that we can have all the means precisely to face these extreme situations and recognize that love of God.”

This assistance, he said, should not only “be offered to the person who is directly facing pain but also to their family members so that they can understand and help effectively and not believe that eliminating the human person is the solution.”

“I would like to emphasize first of all the need for us as a society, as a community, as a country, as families, as the Church, that we attend to people’s faith. Let us take care of the gift of new life that we have received in Christ Jesus in baptism, so that those who are not baptized will be baptized and those who are already baptized find that treasure that is the new life that we have received in Christ,” he concluded.

Pope Francis (R) embraces new Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich after he appointed him during an Ordinary Public Consistory for the creation of new cardinals on October 5, 2019 at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Pope Francis vs. Cardinal Hollerich

EDITORIAL: The Pope’s comments regarding women’s ordination in his interview with CBS put a damper on the movement to alter the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and diaconate.