VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Vatican was preparing to release an update to its 1995 Charter for Health Care Workers that would include the church’s expanded teachings on bioethics, health coverage and so-called “orphan drugs.”

The charter, which provides a thorough summary of the church’s position on affirming the primary, absolute value of life in the health field, “needed adequate supplementation,” said Camillian Father Augusto Chendi, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.

Revisions and updates were needed not only to reflect clarifications since 1995 on church teaching in bioethics, “but also concerning aspects that are increasingly a part of the health field,” he said during a Vatican news conference Nov. 13.


The target date for the new charter’s release is June 16, which is the Dignity of Life Day during the Year of Faith, he said.

However, the date is not certain since the new charter still needs to be reviewed and get approval by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. It will also have to be translated into major languages, and each translation will require the same review and approval as well, he added.

The current charter lists its directives under three categories: procreation, life and death. Father Chendi said the new charter will add the problems of “the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity,” making decisions and taking action at the simplest, most decentralized and most local level possible.

The principles are important in health care, he said, as Pope Benedict XVI highlighted in “Caritas in Veritate,” his 2009 encyclical on economic and social issues.

The priest said solidarity and subsidiarity “must be complied with, for example, in the allocation or distribution of financial resources or, moreover, in the considerations, above all, of health care policies and pharmaceutical companies.”

One example will be the mention of rare or so-called “orphan diseases,” he said, and the need for pharmaceutical companies to develop affordable treatments even though the market for the drugs would be too small to make research, production and distribution economically viable or profitable.

The current charter is based largely on the teachings of Blessed John Paul II and his 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” as well as Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”) and the doctrinal congregation’s 1987 instruction, “Donum Vitae” (“The Gift of Life”), which rejected in vitro fertilization, human cloning, surrogate motherhood and nontherapeutic experiments with human embryos.

The new charter will expand on those teachings by including several notes and instructions released by the doctrinal congregation, such as:

— The “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” published in 2003. The document said while Catholics are free to choose among political parties and strategies for promoting the common good, they cannot claim that freedom allows them to support abortion, euthanasia or other attacks on human life.

— The 2007 text on artificial nutrition and hydration for patients in a persistent vegetative state, which states that such care cannot simply be terminated because doctors have determined that a person will never recover consciousness.

— The 2008 instruction “Dignitas Personae” (“The Dignity of a Person”), which highlighted how scientific progress should be guided by the concern to defend the sacred nature of human life, and prohibited embryo stem-cell research, human cloning, gene therapy and embryo experimentation.

The health care council also announced it has published a booklet titled “The Good Samaritan” in preparation for the 21st World Day of the Sick, celebrated annually Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

The booklet, which will be available in English and Spanish, will contain suggestions for prayers and prayer services for the healing of the sick, designed for different seasons of the church’s liturgical calendar and other times of year.