December 14, 2017
Catholic Social Teaching
Euthanasia is a practice
that has long endured for the purpose of hastening death. In the Oxford
Dictionary, euthanasia is defined as “The painless killing of a patient
suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma.”1 Though there are different
laws pertaining to euthanasia, it is commonly known as a deliberate
intervention that is undertaken to relieve the suffering of a patient. Debate over
this topic is common especially as it becomes more popularized in modern times.
Despite the general agreement to euthanasia, the Catholic Church opposes this
act entirely and regards it as morally unacceptable. The Catholic Social Teachings
of the Church has been articulated through a tradition of papal, conciliar, and
episcopal documents to enrichen the Church with wisdom to build a just society so
that man may live a holy life amidst the challenges of modern society. Thus,
the Church proclaims that human life is threatened by acts such as euthanasia because
it denies the value and dignity of life and witnesses an act against morality.
As mentioned before,
euthanasia is a topic of great debate and conflicting views. In order to fully
understand both sides of this argument, the first must be taken into
consideration. The euthanasia debate has tended to focus on certain key
concerns. American oncologist and bioethicist, Ezekiel Emanuel, presents four
main arguments from euthanasia proponents. The first being that people have a
right to self-determination, which should allow them to choose their own fate. Secondly,
assisting patients to die might be a better choice for them rather than the
continual suffering they had been enduring. Thirdly, Emanuel states the distinction
between passive and active euthanasia- when death is brought either by an
omission or by an intended act are both possible options for a patient. And lastly,
that euthanasia does not necessarily lead to unacceptable consequences. These are
only some of the arguments by which pro-euthanasia activists fight for in
modern society. Interestingly enough, Emanuel argues against the legalization
of euthanasia, and for different reasons than the Catholic Church. He maintains
that not all deaths are painful, and secondly, alternatives are available such
as active treatments and pain relief. Emanuel claims that the distinction between
active and passive euthanasia is morally significant and legalizing euthanasia would
in fact lead to unacceptable consequences. A commonality between the arguments
Emanuel exposed from those in favor of euthanasia and his own is the theme of relieving
pain. Usually those in favor of euthanasia vouch for the well-being of the patient
in their apparent state of anguish or pain. These advocates state that the
legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide from wrongful death and ‘enables
peaceful death with dignity.’2 Furthermore, they identify
three main benefits, “Realizing individual autonomy, reducing needless pain and
suffering, and providing psychological reassurance to dying patients.”3
The Catholic Church has
integrated itself in these moral issues of our society today. The Catechism of the
Catholic Church firstly emphasizes the fifth commandment- thou shall not kill. Human
life is sacred from its beginning because it involves God’s creative action and
remains always in a relationship with him. Throughout the Gospels, Scriptures
specify the love one ought to have for his neighbors and even enemies. This love
is a fundamental principle of morality within the Catholic Church, and ending a
life violates the integrity of the human person because each person has his own
right to life. The Church does not disregard the suffering of patients either- “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.”4 There is a great
misconception of suffering in the modern world, for Catholicism seeks to embrace
the cross with Christ, “he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not
worthy of me.”5
And again in Pope Saint John Paul II’s encyclical, Salvifici Doloris, “Suffering seems to belong to man’s
transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense
“destined” to go beyond himself, and he is called to this in a
John Paul II continues to urge Christians to overcome fear because the
suffering of the world has been redeemed and conquered through the cross. Suffering
is deeply rooted in humanity every person experiences personal suffering. The
modern world is filled with hardships and trials, but the Pope urges people into
communion and solidarity. “People who suffer become similar to one another through
the analogy of their situation, the trial of their destiny, or through their
need for understanding and care, and perhaps above all through the persistent
question of the meaning of suffering.”7 For these reasons,
suffering neither excuses nor justifies taking a life. This suffering confirms
a certain spiritual greatness in which the person matures and received further
grace from Christ. The Catholic Church calls all to suffer together with Christ
and unite their human sufferings with Jesus’s salvific suffering to one day
rest in eternal peace with the Father.
– English Oxford Dictionary, 2009. Oxford University
– Emanuel, Ezekiel. The History of Euthanasia Debates in the United States and Britain.
of Internal Medicine, 1994.
– Sttinic, Visnja. Arguments
in Support and Against Euthanasia. British Journal of Medicine and
Medical Research, 2015.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Vatican:
Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012.
English Oxford Dictionary
2 Sttinic, Visnja. Arguments in Support and Against
Ezekiel. What Is the Great Benefit of
Legalizing Euthanasia or Physician-Assisted Suicide? 629.
of the Catholic Church, 2276.
II, Salvifici Doloris, 2.
II, Salvifici Doloris, 7.