This Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life – the twenty-seventh assembly since 1994, the year the Academy was founded – has as its theme Public Health in Global Perspective. Pandemic, Bioethics, Future. This is not an Assembly about the pandemic, but about what we have learned from the pandemic and what guidelines we should follow and practice for a new future. Actually, from the very beginning the Pontifical Academy for Life sought to understand the changes that the pandemic was causing in global society. A series of documents brought to everyone’s attention the considerations that were being expressed from time to time. The first document was dated March 30, 2020: Pandemic and Universal Brotherhood, followed by a second document dated July 22, 2020 entitled Humana Communitas in the Era of the Pandemic. Our reflection then focused on the most severely affected groups, which are the elderly, people with disabilities, and children, with three documents: Old Age: Our Future dated February 9, 2021, Covid-19: Learning from Persons with Disabilities dated June 15, 2021, and the forthcoming document on children.
Following this path, this General Assembly, which includes the participation of our Academicians both on site and on line, and a workshop with some of the leading international experts, intends to put Public Health at the center of the debate. We had never understood so well how much the health of every single individual is connected to the health of all individuals as in the last period: we are all interconnected, for better or for worse. The privilege of some people at the expense of others is no longer admissible. Differences, disparities and inequalities deny this fundamental evidence and must therefore be overcome.
The backdrop of the Assembly remains Pope Francis’ Encyclical Fratelli Tutti: we are part of a single human family and no one will be able to save themselves on their own. It is therefore necessary to identify the dynamics in our relationships that lead to maintaining “areas of well-being” of the few, at the expense of the many. The hyper-individualistic “I” must give way to the “We” of the human family. This is a need that the message of the Gospel illuminates, but it is also inscribed in the horizon of a global society based on relationships of solidarity and global balances so that no one is excluded. There is a need for a new vision of the global human family.
As Pope Francis told us yesterday: «If we examine life expectancy – and healthy life expectancy – in different countries and in different social groups, we find out strong inequalities. These inequalities depend on variables such as level of income, educational qualification, neighborhood (even within the same city). We affirm that life and health are equally fundamental values for everyone, based on the inalienable dignity of the human person. However, if this statement is not followed by the appropriate commitment to overcome inequalities, we actually accept the painful reality that not all lives are equal and health is not protected for everyone in the same way. And here I would like to reiterate my concern, so that there will always be a free health care system: the countries that have it – for example Italy and others, which have a good free health care system – must not abandon it, because otherwise it would come to the point that, within the population, only those who can pay for it will have the right to health care, the others will not. And that’s a very big challenge. That helps overcome inequalities».
If the priority for Western countries is vaccines (and we are actually witnessing the greatest vaccination effort ever made in history), we must not forget the need to build equitable healthcare on a planetary scale. The topic at the center of our reflection is the future of treatment and healthcare, if we really want to take seriously the lesson we have learned from the pandemic. For the majority of the world’s population, in addition to vaccines, the priority is real and effective access to care, but also to the goods that “simply” allow us to live. It is necessary to overcome not only the vaccination divide but also the unequal access to public health, removing barriers such as the lack of facilities and managing more wisely the resources for treatment.
Many emphasize the need to respond to the current crisis with measures that are also useful for the future of the planet. Vaccination is crucial for a global protection against Covid-19, but the key issue concerns the possibility of truly overcoming the inequalities soon, by implementing a global health policy that makes access to care more equitable.
Let’s not forget the first and most important lesson: to take care of our health, we must first of all be alive! And access to the essential goods for living must be guaranteed to everyone on our planet.
For the Pontifical Academy for Life there is a further commitment: to collaborate with the Vatican Dicasteries – in particular within the framework of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission – and to focus attention on the pandemic crisis, proposing a sapiential interpretation that illuminates the paths of men and women in our time. Only together, as brothers and sisters, will we be able to emerge from this crisis. Thank you.