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People have right to know environmental causes of illness

Vatican hosts health conference as awareness of pollution's impact widens

People have right to know environmental causes of illness

A Philippine family leaves their Manila home, which sits atop a sea of garbage, on June 5. (Photo by Jay Directo/AFP)

Published: November 18, 2015 06:13 AM GMT

Updated: November 17, 2015 07:20 PM GMT

Patients have a right to a diagnosis that includes the possible causes of their illness, not just treatment addressing the symptoms, said a doctor invited to a Vatican-sponsored congress.

The increasing awareness of the impact that pollution and other environmental factors are having on human health should play a greater role in medical assessments and policies dealing with prevention, Dr. Antonio Pasciuto said at a Vatican news conference Nov. 17.

The Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry is scheduled to host an international conference on a culture of "health and welcoming" in serving humanity and the planet. More than 500 people — scientists, health care professionals, theologians, diplomats and other experts — are expected to attend the conference Nov. 19-21.

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Pasciuto, who is a member of the European Academy for Environmental Medicine and president of the Italian Association of Environmental Medicine and Health, said many illnesses and diseases are caused by exposure to toxic substances present in the air, water, food and everyday products.

Science has found and continues to study the harmful effects of insecticides, pesticides, heavy metals, molds and a whole host of chemicals and particles people put into the environment, he said.

"Practically all chronic pathologies and so-called functional disturbances are to be attributed, at least in large part, to such factors," Pasciuto said.

"Too often we doctors tend to blame age or stress, forgetting to study the causes and overlooking the many forms of environmental overload to which all of us, to different degrees, are exposed.”

Looking deeper at the environmental causes of illness not only assists the doctor in finding a more effective treatment and therapy, he said — it can aid in prevention and possible solutions in order to avoid or correct environmental pollution.

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, council president, said the framework of the conference is based on the theology of safeguarding life evident in Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si', St. John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae and Pope Benedict XVI's teachings.

Camillian Father Augusto Chendi, undersecretary of the council, said the "environmental imbalances caused by man" compel the church to proclaim more forcefully humanity's duty to safeguard creation and manage resources more carefully.

Aware of everyone's "important responsibilities and an unavoidable moral obligation" to safeguard creation, the church is calling for greater protection of people's dignity and health, he said.

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