The Catholic Church has always held inviolable the dignity and right to life of every human person from the moment of conception (fertilisation) through to natural death.
Not only does the Church explain why the direct taking of a life is always evil, but for those who care to listen, she gives her wisdom and offers the opportunity to understand why suffering, sacrifice, and service to another human being are of value – not just in this life, but for the next.
The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in their Declaration on Euthanasia, defined the practice, and the immorality of it in very clear terms.
“By euthanasia is understood an action or an omission which of itself or by intention causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated. Euthanasia’s terms of reference, therefore, are to be found in the intention of the will and in the methods used. It is necessary to state firmly once more that nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action. For it is a question of the violation of the divine law, an offense against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack on humanity.”
In his encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II, definitively declared the Church’s position on the taking of life through the practice of euthanasia.
“Taking into account these distinctions, in harmony with the Magisterium of my Predecessors and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (EV #65)
In the same document, the Pontiff went on to state that “suicide is always as morally objectionable as murder.” He explained that “even though a certain psychological, cultural and social conditioning may induce a person to carry out an action which so radically contradicts the innate inclination to life, thus lessening or removing subjective responsibility, suicide, when viewed objectively, is a gravely immoral act.”
Contrary to what the world might believe, suicide “involves the rejection of love of self and the renunciation of the obligation of justice and charity towards one’s neighour, towards the communities to which one belongs, and towards society as a whole.”
Most importantly, the Saint explained that “in its deepest reality, suicide represents a rejection of God’s absolute sovereignty over life and death.”
“To concur with the intention of another person to commit suicide and to help in carrying it out through so-called assisted suicide means to cooperate in, and at times to be the actual perpetrator of, an injustice which can never be excused, even if it is requested.”
Official Church Documents
Please note: The links in this section will take you to the official documents held on the Vatican website.
The Declaration on Euthanasia was promulgated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on May 5, 1980. This document reminds the faithful that the Church has always upheld the dignity of the human person at the end of life, and opposed euthanasia. The Declaration confirms that these teachings retain their full force. Medical science in recent years has brought to the fore new aspects fo the question of euthanasia, and these aspects call for further elucidation on the ethical level.
Evangelium Vitae, the encyclical letter on the value and inviolability of human life, was promulgated by Saint John Paul II on 25 March 1995. It is a handbook for all those who seek to promote, defend and love human life from conception through to natural death, explaining the forces behind the culture of death and the tools and courageous action required by the faithful to transform the culture to one that embraces life. There are numerous references to euthanasia/assisted suicide within this encyclical.
Salvifici Doloris, a profound teaching on the Christian meaning of Human Suffering, was promulgated by Saint John Paul II on 11 February 1984. The document discusses both the supernatural and human aspects of the meaning of suffering. Salvifici Doloris is an important Apostolic Letter to read and reflect on. It puts into perspective the role suffering has both in the redemption of the world, and in discovering who we are, our dignity, and mission.
The following excerpts are direct quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding euthanasia and suicide.
Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.
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 an 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 honour 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 neighbour 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.
If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law. Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.
We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.
Quotes from Pope Francis
Faithfulness to the Gospel of Life sometimes requires brave choices
“Your mission as doctors places you in daily contact with so many forms of suffering. I encourage you to take them on as Good Samaritans, caring in a special way for the elderly, the infirm and the disabled. Faithfulness to the Gospel of Life and respect for life as a gift from God sometimes require brace choices that go against the current, which in particular circumstances may become points of conscientious objection. This faithfulness brings with it many social consequences. We are living in a time of experimentation with life. But it is harmful experimentation… Listen, in the old and the modern schools of thought, the word kill means the same thing! The same is true for euthanasia. We all know that with so many elderly people in this throw-away culture, euthanasia is being performed in secret. There is also another. And this is saying to God: ‘No, I will end life, as I see fit.’ A sin against God the Creator: think hard about this.”
Address to participants in the Commemorative Conference of the Italian Catholic Physicians’ Association, 15 November, 2014.
The frail human being cannot be thrown away!
“In a frail human being, each one of us is invited to recognize the face of the Lord, who in his human flesh experienced the indifference and solitude to which we so often condemn the poorest of the poor, whether in developing countries or in wealthy societies… And every elderly person, even if he is ill or at the end of his days, bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded, as the “culture of waste” suggests! They cannot be thrown away!”
Masterpieces of God’s creation
“Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live for ever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”
Message for the Day of Life – Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, 16 July 2013
Quotes from Pope Benedict XVI
Condemnation of every form of direct euthanasia
“More and more lonely elderly people exist in big cities, even in situations of serious illness and close to death. In such situations, the pressure of euthanasia is felt, especially when a utilitarian vision of the person creeps in. In this regard, I take this opportunity to reaffirm once again the firm and constant ethical condemnation of every form of direct euthanasia, in accordance with the Church’s centuries-old teaching.”
Close by the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects Congress, Pontifical Academy for Life, 25 February, 2008
The Pope to the sick: Accept death at hour chosen by God
“Unfortunately we know only too well: the endurance of suffering can upset life’s most stable equilibrium; it can shake the firmest foundations of confidence, and sometimes even leads people to despair of the meaning and value of life. There are struggles that we cannot sustain alone, without the help of divine grace… I would like to say, humbly, to those who suffer and to those who struggle and are tempted to turn their backs on life: turn towards Mary! Within the smile of the Virgin lies mysteriously hidden the strength to fight against sickness and for life. With her, equally, is found the grace to accept without fear or bitterness to leave this world at the hour chosen by God.”
Homily In Lourdes, 15 September 2008
A society unable to accept its suffering members is a cruel and inhuman society
“The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through com-passion is a cruel and inhuman society. Yet society cannot accept its suffering members and support them in their trials unless individuals are capable of doing so themselves, moreover, the individual cannot accept another’s suffering unless he personally is able to find meaning in suffering, a path of purification and growth in maturity, a journey of hope. Indeed, to accept the other who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word consolatio, consolation, expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude.”
Quotes from Saint John Paul II
“True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear. Moreover, the act of euthanasia appears all the more perverse if it is carried out by those, like relatives, who are supposed to treat a family member with patience and love, or by those, such as doctors, who by virtue of their specific profession are supposed to care for the sick person even in the most painful terminal stages.”