Euthanasia: E-mail Response to Question Regarding What the Church Teaches and Where to Find it in Sacred Scripture

By Brother John Raymond

According to the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," numbers 2277-2281, it states: "Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

"'Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

"'Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of over-zealous treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

"'Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either and end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.'

"Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for His honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

"Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God."

Scriptural Basis

Here are some but not all: "Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: 'Do not slay the innocent and the righteous.' (Ex. 23,7) The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.

"In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, 'You shall not kill,' (Mt. 5,21) and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance." (cf. Catechism 2260-2262)

"Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death.

"Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.

"The man of the Old Testament lives his sickness in the presence of God. It is before God that he laments his illness, and it is of God, Master of life and death, that he implores healing. (cf. Pss 6,3; 38; Isa 38) Illness becomes a way to conversion; God's forgiveness initiates the healing. (cf. Pss 32,5; 38,5; 39,9 & 12; 107,20; Mk 2:5-12) It is the experience of Israel that illness is mysteriously linked to sin and evil, and that faithfulness to God according to His law restores life: 'For I am the Lord, your healer.' (Ex. 15,26) The prophet intuits that suffering can also have a redemptive meaning for the sins of others. (cf. Isa 53,11) Finally Isaiah announces that God will usher in a time for Zion when He will pardon every offense and heal every illness. (cf. Isa 33,24)

"Christ's compassion toward the sick and His many healings of every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that 'God has visited His people' (Lk 7,16; cf. Mt 4,24) and that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Jesus has the power not only to heal, but also to forgive sins; (cf. Mk 2:5-12) He has come to heal the whole man, soul and body; He is the physician the sick have need of. (cf. Mk 2,17) His compassion toward all who suffer goes so far that He identifies Himself with them: 'I was sick and you visited Me.' (Mt 25,36) His preferential love for the sick has not ceased through the centuries to draw the very special attention of Christians toward all those who suffer in body and soul. It is the source of tireless efforts to comfort them.

"Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows Himself to be touched by the sick, but He makes their miseries His own: 'He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.' (Mt 8,17; cf. Isa 53,4) But He did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through His Passover. On the cross Christ took upon Himself the whole weight of evil and took away the 'sin of the world,' (Jn 1,29; cf. Isa 53:4-6) of which illness is only a consequence. By His passion and death Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to Him and unite us with His redemptive Passion.

"Christ invites His disciples to follow Him by taking up their cross in their turn. (cf. Mt 10,38) By following Him they acquire a new outlook on illness and the sick. Jesus associates them with His own life of poverty and service. He makes them share in His ministry of compassion and healing: 'So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them." (Mk 6:12-13) (Catechism 1500-1503, 1505-1506)