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.
Official Church Documents
Note: Links in this section will take you to the official documents held on the Vatican website.
Declaration on Euthanasia
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 the 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.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
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.
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.