4.38 Is euthanasia always wrong?
The term ‘euthanasia’ has become synonymous with killing someone who no longer wants to live: death at one’s own request. In the case of euthanasia, we end the life that God has given us in custody: we put an end to something that does not belong to us.
Instead of helping someone to love and respect the life given by God, that person is assisted in ending that life. Performing euthanasia violates the ancient oath of the Greek physician Hippocrates. A human being never has the right to end his own life, and that is why euthanasia is always wrong.
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What is forbidden by the fifth commandment?
The fifth commandment forbids as gravely contrary to the moral law:
- direct and intentional murder and cooperation in it;
- direct abortion, willed as an end or as means, as well as cooperation in it. Attached to this sin is the penalty of excommunication because, from the moment of his or her conception, the human being must be absolutely respected and protected in his integrity;
- direct euthanasia which consists in putting an end to the life of the handicapped, the sick, or those near death by an act or by the omission of a required action;
- suicide and voluntary cooperation in it, insofar as it is a grave offense against the just love of God, of self, and of neighbor. One’s responsibility may be aggravated by the scandal given; one who is psychologically disturbed or is experiencing grave fear may have diminished responsibility. [CCCC 470]
What medical procedures are permitted when death is considered imminent?
When death is considered imminent the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. However, it is legitimate to use pain-killers which do not aim at in death and to refuse “over-zealous treatment”, that is the utilization of disproportionate medical procedures without reasonable hope of a positive outcome. [CCCC 471]
Is it permissible to offer assistance in dying?
To bring about death directly is always against the commandment “You shall not kill” (Ex 20:13). In contrast, to stand by and assist a dying person is humane and even obligatory.
What really matters is whether a dying person is killed or allowed to die and thus accompanied. Someone who intentionally brings about the death of a dying person (euthanasia) breaks the Fifth Commandment. Someone who helps another person in the dying process obeys the commandment “Love your neighbor.” In view of the certain impending death of a patient, it is therefore legitimate to withhold extraordinary or expensive medical procedures that are not proportionate to the expected outcome. The patient himself must make the decision to forgo “extraordinary” measures or must have stated this intention in an advance directive. If he is no longer capable of doing so, those who are legally entitled must represent the express or probable wishes of the dying person. Ordinary care of a dying person should never be discontinued; this is commanded by love of neighbor and mercy. Meanwhile it can be legitimate and in keeping with human dignity to use painkillers, even at the risk of shortening the patient’s life. The crucial thing is that the use of such medications must not aim at bringing about death, either as an end in itself or as a means of ending pain. [Youcat 382]
In a social and cultural context which makes it more difficult to face and accept suffering, the temptation becomes all the greater to resolve the problem of suffering by eliminating it at the root, by hastening death... 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. [Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 15.65]