He added that euthanasia "appears as one of the more alarming symptoms of the culture of death that is advancing above all in the society of well-being."
"Those who have an understanding of human dignity, however, know that the elderly must be respected and supported while they face serious difficulties linked to their state," said the Holy Father.
Benedict XVI then recalled John Paul II, who in his "exemplary witness of faith and courage" in his illness exhorted scientists and physicians to never cede "to the temptation to have recourse to the practices of shortening the life of the elderly or the sick, practices that would in fact result in forms of euthanasia."
A gift of God
"Man's life is a gift of God, which all of us are always called to protect," he said. "This must also involve health workers, whose specific mission is to be 'servants of life' in all its phases, especially in that phase marked by the fragility connected with infirmity."
For this reason, the Pope added, "a general commitment is necessary so that human life be respected not only in Catholic hospitals but in every place of care."
Moreover, the elderly who are affected by incurable illnesses need palliative care that is able to mitigate the pain, the Holy Father said, in order to face "in a conscious and human way the last stage of earthly existence, to serenely prepare for death."
Pontiff continued: "In general it is opportune to do what is possible for the families themselves to welcome and with grateful affection take care of them so that the elderly who are sick can pass the last period of their life at home and prepare themselves for death in a climate of family warmth."
Benedict XVI said that this is important because "the sick need understanding, comfort and constant encouragement and accompaniment," as well as competent medical care.
"May the sick person in the most difficult moments, supported by pastoral care, be encouraged to find strength to face his difficult trial in prayer and the comfort of the sacraments," said the Pope. "May he be surrounded by brothers in faith, disposed to listen to him and share his sentiments."
The Holy Father invited believers facing illness and death to "not to lose their serenity, because nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of Christ."