Catholic teaching on euthanasia and end-of-life care

By Adam Rasmussen, 2 October 2020
Image: Marc Olivier Jodoin/Unsplash


The Catholic Church espouses a consistent ethic of life that requires the legal protection of all human life from conception to natural death. Thus Pope Francis wrote, in his 2018 Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”),

“The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.”

(GE 101, emphasis added)

The Holy Father rejects the lopsided view found among some Catholics that in the political arena abortion is “the only thing that counts.” The lives of the unborn are sacred and should be protected by law, but this is equally true of the poor and underprivileged, the elderly, and victims of human trafficking; in a word, anyone who is marginalized. In my previous post I discussed how this applies even to people guilty of grave crimes, who should never under any circumstances be put to execution. Today I would like to discuss euthanasia and assisted suicide.

On September 22 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the specific approval of Pope Francis (meaning this is part of his ordinary Magisterium), published a letter spelling out the Church’s teachings and pastoral practices concerning euthanasia and assisted suicide. It is called Samaritanus Bonus (SB)—named for the Good Samaritan.

For its doctrinal basis, it draws heavily upon the 1980 CDF Declaration on Euthanasia, called Iura et Bona, as well as some allocutions given by Pius XII in the 1950’s. Doctrinally, there is very little that is new in this document; the basic doctrine remains the same as it was 40 years ago. Over the years, some very specific elements regarding particular, difficult points have been elaborated, and this document tries to put everything into an overall, coherent framework. As such, it will be the touchstone for future Catholic discussion of this topic for decades to come.

Continue reading this article on Where Peter Is.

With thanks to Where Peter Is and Adam Rasmussen.

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