The Judeo-Christian moral tradition celebrates life as the gift of a loving God, and respects the life of each human being because each is made in the image and likeness of God. As Christians we also believe we are redeemed by Christ and called to share eternal life with Him. From these roots the Catholic tradition has developed a distinctive approach to fostering and sustaining human life. Our Church views life as a sacred trust, a gift over which we are given stewardship and not absolute dominion. The Church thus opposes all direct attacks on innocent life. As conscientious stewards we have a duty to preserve life, while recognizing certain limits to that duty:
- Because human life is the foundation for all other human goods, it has a special value and significance. Life is "the first right of the human person" and "the condition of all the others."
- All crimes against life, including "euthanasia or willful suicide," must be opposed. Euthanasia is "an action or an omission which of itself or by intention causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated." Its terms of reference are to be found "in the intention of the will and in the methods used." Thus defined, euthanasia is an attack on life which no one has a right to make or request, and which no government or other human authority can legitimately recommend or permit. Although individual guilt may be reduced or absent because of suffering or emotional factors that cloud the conscience, this does not change the objective wrongfulness of the act. It should also be recognized that an apparent plea for death may really be a plea for help and love.
- Suffering is a fact of human life, and has special significance for the Christian as an opportunity to share in Christ's redemptive suffering. Nevertheless there is nothing wrong in trying to relieve someone's suffering; in fact it is a positive good to do so, as long as one does not intentionally cause death or interfere with other moral and religious duties.
- Everyone has the duty to care for his or her own life and health and to seek necessary medical care from others, but this does not mean that all possible remedies must be used in all circumstances. One is not obliged to use either "extraordinary" means or "disproportionate" means of preserving life -- that is, means which are understood as offering no reasonable hope of benefit or as involving excessive burdens. Decisions regarding such means are complex, and should ordinarily be made by the patient in consultation with his or her family, chaplain or pastor, and physician when that is possible.
- In the final stage of dying one is not obliged to prolong the life of a patient by every possible means: "When inevitable death is imminent in spite of the means used, it is permitted in conscience to take the decision to refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted."
- While affirming life as a gift of God, the Church recognizes that death is unavoidable and that it can open the door to eternal life. Thus, "without in any way hastening the hour of death," the dying person should accept its reality and prepare for it emotionally and spiritually.
- Decisions regarding human life must respect the demands of justice, viewing each human being as our neighbor and avoiding all discrimination based on age or dependency. A human being has "a unique dignity and an independent value, from the moment of conception and in every stage of development, whatever his or her physical condition." In particular, "the disabled person (whether the disability be the result of a congenital handicap, chronic illness or accident, or from mental or physical deficiency, and whatever the severity of the disability) is a fully human subject, with the corresponding innate, sacred and inviolable rights." First among these is "the fundamental and inalienable right to life."
- The dignity and value of the human person, which lie at the foundation of the Church's teaching on the right to life, also provide a basis for any just social order. Not only to become more Christian, but to become more truly human, society should protect the right to life through its laws and other policies.
While these principles grow out of a specific religious tradition, they appeal to a common respect for the dignity of the human person. We commend them to all people of good will.
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion (1974), para. 11.
- Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes, para. 27. Suicide must be distinguished from "that sacrifice of one's life whereby for a higher cause, such as God's glory, the salvation of souls or the higher service of one's brethren, a person offers his or her own life or puts it in danger." Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia (1980), Part I.
- Declaration on Euthanasia, Part II.
- See: Declaration on Euthanasia, Part III; United States Catholic Conference, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Facilities (1971), Directive 29.
- Declaration on Euthanasia, Part IV.
- Declaration on Euthanasia, Part IV.
- Declaration on Euthanasia, conclusion.
- Gaudium et spes, para. 27; Declaration on Procured Abortion, para. 12.
- Document of the Holy See for the International Year of Disabled Persons (March 4, 1981), I.1 and II.1: Origins, Volume 10 (1981), pages 747-8.
- Declaration on Euthanasia, Introduction; Declaration on Procured Abortion, paras. 10-11, 21; Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin (1987), Part III.