Sickness and human rights
Fr. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ
The sick. We have them in our family, among our friends, acquaintances. Adults and children get sick and the world of the sick is big. One can see it especially when you go to some hospital or medical centre. Some TV news programme showed people suffering from cancer, waiting in a long queue to see a doctor and start important treatment. And the more you wait for treatment the little help you get, which can often cause someone’s death!
Therefore, what we are experiencing is a strange phenomenon. It has never happened that people had to queue for months to go to some medical specialists. It happens now, which means that the sick are practically in tragic situations. Since the disease cannot wait. It develops, ruining the organism and condemning people to be in even worse conditions. One must do something about that. One must somehow prevent such situations. The sick cannot be left without help. Health services are one of the most important fields of the public life. The government and the Parliament should be responsible for the efficient functioning of health services.
Naturally, the phenomenon is complex and first of all, we do not have enough money for health care and the contemporary medicine, which is much more effective, requires much bigger financial means. However, the situation is an expression of care of the state for their citizens, their fundamental rights and dignity, and perhaps in the highest degree ‘ministerium’, i.e. service to people. You must realise that a patient who goes to a medical centre must cope with many problems. These are numerous regulations he must face – and he is not fully healthy – this is the necessity to find courage, also to accept the diagnosis, and the whole financial situation of this patient is often simply tragic. You cannot turn away someone who cannot afford expensive private medical treatment, saying that it is not our fault that he cannot afford such a treatment. We all suffer from disease and experience pain, humiliation, rejection. Patients leaving hospital cannot be left to themselves, without any chances for further treatment. Therefore, hospices and medical volunteers are extremely important elements of the state health care for sick citizens. Society realises that the state functions to organise help for people who are in special situations. That’s why facing the recurrent question, ‘Can one leave the patient’s bed?’ I answer, ‘Definitely, one cannot!’ A sick person has the right to receive help from medical institutions and the wages of medical personnel are of secondary importance and should be settled by other methods and at another time. One cannot break the fundamental ethical and moral rights. The problems of the health services are certainly worth of the attention and concrete decisions of the government. They are pressing and central. However, one should remember that according to its name it is health service, i.e. work that will always be of supportive character towards the sick that we should show our solidarity. Surely, we will fall sick some day and feel helpless, expecting help. Then you understand best what it means to love your neighbour in whom you must see Christ. May the Eighteenth World Day of the Sick make us aware of this reality even more and the Patroness of the Sick – Our Lady of Lourdes – always protect us when we call for her help. In the Year for Priests I want to remind us of the very important comment of Benedict XVI from his letter for the World Day of the Sick, ‘Time spent beside those who are put to the test may bear fruits of grace for all the other dimensions of pastoral care.’