National Conference of Catholic Bishops
September 12, 1991
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Current efforts to legalize euthanasia place our society at a critical juncture. These efforts have received growing public attention, due to new publications giving advice on methods of suicide and some highly publicized instances in which family members or physicians killed terminally ill persons or helped them kill themselves.
Proposals such as those in the Pacific Northwest, spearheaded by the Hemlock Society, aim to change state laws against homicide and assisted suicide to allow physicians to provide drug overdoses or lethal injections to their terminally ill patients.
Those who advocate euthanasia have capitalized on people’s confusion, ambivalence, and even fear about the use of modern life-prolonging technologies. Further, borrowing language from the abortion debate, they insist that the “right to choose” must prevail over all other considerations. Being able to choose the time and manner of one’s death, without regard to what is chosen, is presented as the ultimate freedom. A decision to take one’s life or to allow a physician to kill a suffering patient, however, is very different from a decision to refuse extraordinary or disproportionately burdensome treatment.
As Catholic leaders and moral teachers, we believe that life is the most basic gift of a loving God–a gift over which we have stewardship but not absolute dominion. Our tradition, declaring a moral obligation to care for our own life and health and to seek such care from others, recognizes that we are not morally obligated to use all available medical procedures in every set of circumstances. But that tradition clearly and strongly affirms that as a responsible steward of life one must never directly intend to cause one’s own death, or the death of an innocent victim, by action or omission. As the Second Vatican Council declared, “euthanasia and willful suicide” are “offenses against life itself” which “poison civilization”; they “debase the perpetrators more than the victims and militate against the honor of the creator” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, n.27).
As the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has said, “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.” Moreover, we have no right “to ask for this act of killing” for ourselves or for those entrusted to our care; “nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action.” We are dealing here with “a violation of the divine law, an offense against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack on humanity” (Declaration on Euthanasia, 1980).
Legalizing euthanasia would also violate American convictions about human rights and equality. The Declaration of Independence proclaims our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If our right to life itself is diminished in value, our other rights will have no meaning. To destroy the boundary between healing and killing would mark a radical departure from longstanding legal and medical traditions of our country, posing a threat of unforeseeable magnitude to vulnerable members of our society. Those who represent the interests of elderly citizens, persons with disabilities, and persons with AIDS or other terminal illnesses, are justifiably alarmed when some hasten to confer on them the “freedom” to be killed.
We call on Catholics, and on all persons of good will, to reject proposals to legalize euthanasia. We urge families to discuss issues surrounding the care of terminally ill loved ones in light of sound moral principles and the demands of human dignity, so that patients need not feel helpless or abandoned in the face of complex decisions about their future. And we urge health care professionals, legislators, and all involved in this debate, to seek solutions to the problems of terminally ill patients and their families that respect the inherent worth of all human beings, especially those most in need of our love and assistance.
Church Documents and Teachings
- Responses to Certain Questions Concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 1, 2007 (en español)
- Commentary on Nutrition and Hydration, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 1, 2007 (en español )
- Address of John Paul II to the Participants in the International Congress on Life-Sustaining Treatments and the Vegetative State , March 20, 2004 (en español)
- Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Fifth Edition, USCCB, November 17, 2009
- Statement on Euthanasia, USCCB, Administrative Committee, September 12, 1991
- Statement on Uniform Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, NCCB, 1986
- Guidelines for Legislation on Life-Sustaining Treatment, NCCB, 1984
- Declaration on Euthanasia, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, May 5, 1980 (en español)
- For more information visit the usccb.org
Articles and Publications
- Life Matters: Doctor-Assisted Death, by William L. Toffler, MD, 2012 (en español)
- Life Matters: To the End of Our Days, 2011 (en español)
- Caring for Each Other, Even Unto Death, by Marie T. Hilliard, PhD, 2010 (en español)
- Assisted Suicide: Death by “Choice”?, by Rita Marker, Esq., 2009 (en español)
- John Paul II: Dying with Dignity, by Rev. J. Daniel Mindling, O.F.M. Cap., 2005 (en español)
- Human Dignity in the ‘Vegetative’ State, by Richard Doerflinger, 2004 (en español)
- Physician-assisted Suicide: The Wrong Approach to End of Life Care, by F. Michael Gloth, III, M.D., 2003 (en español)
- Hope for the Journey: Meaningful Support for the Terminally Ill, by Kathy Kalina, RN, CRNH, 2001 (en español)
- False Freedom and the Culture of Death, by Richard Doerflinger, 2000 (en español)
- Dying Well, Assisted Suicide, and the Law, by Cathleen Kavney, 1999 (en español)
- Killing the Pain, Not the Patient, by Richard Doerflinger and Carlos F. Gomez, M.D., 1998
- The Quality of Life: Who’s the Judge?, by Richard Doerflinger,1996
- For more articles visit the usccb.org
News Releases and Statements
- USCCB Comments On Medicare’s Proposed Rule On Advance Care Planning, September 4, 2015
- Cardinal O’Malley: New Vermont Assisted Suicide Law Reveals Slippery Slope, May 21, 2013
- Bishops Approve Items on Marriage, Reproductive Technologies, Medically Assisted Nutrition And Hydration, November 18, 2009
- Cardinal Keeler Mourns Tragic Death of Terri Schiavo, March 31, 2005
- In Newsday Op-Ed, Bishops’ Official Says Terri Schiavo Deserves Nourishment and Care, March 24, 2005
- Cardinal Keeler Says Terri Schiavo Deserves Basic Care, March 24, 2005
- Bishops’ Official Thanks Congress And The President For Giving Terri Schiavo A Chance To Live, March 21, 2005
- Bishops’ Official Applauds Justice Department Appeal of Oregon Assisted Suicide Case, November 10, 2004
- Bishops’ Official Criticizes 9th Circuit Approval of Assisted Suicide in Oregon, May, 27, 2004
- For more information visit the usccb.org
- UPDATED FACT SHEET: Assisted Suicide Laws in Oregon and Washington: What Safeguards?, September 22, 2016
- Suicide and Assisted Suicide: The Role of Depression, May 18, 2011
- Q & A on Nutrition and Hydration for Patients in a “Vegetative State”, September, 2007
- “Pain Relief Promotion Act of 2000”
- The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1997 Decisions on Assisted Suicide, June 13, 1998
- Assisted Suicide: What is at Stake?, May 19, 1998
- For more information visit the usccb.org
Assisted Suicide & Euthanasia Videos
You don’t discourage suicide by assisting suicide. “Every suicide is tragic – whether you’re old or young, healthy or sick, your life is worth living,” says Luke Maxwell, 19, who survived an attempt to take his own life.
John’s Story: Beyond Independence
Born without arms, John Foppe speaks to a way of life beyond independence, namely inter-dependence: Together we are more. Assisted suicide sells everyone short, so in times of illness or disability, he encourages us to “step into life!”
Jeanette’s Story: 15 Years Later
In 2000, when Oregon resident, Jeanette Hall, had less than a year to live, she asked her cancer doctor for the pills to commit suicide. Dr. Kenneth Stevens got to know her better and inspired her to consider treatment. The tumor just “melted away” and now — 15 years later — Jeanette says: “It’s great to be alive!”
Maggie Karner passed away on September 25, 2015, after living with brain cancer for a year and a half. She is survived by her husband and three daughters, who were by her side when she passed peacefully.