12-Part Series on Morality (Part 10: Euthanasia)

Catechism paragraphs 2277 to 2278 state, “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. 

Thus, an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.  The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over-zealous’ treatment.  Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted.  The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.”

The Catechism defines euthanasia as “an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering…”  This definition is key in determining whether an act (active/direct euthanasia) or omission (passive euthanasia) fits a particular circumstance.  For instance, if a suffering person wants food, water, medicine and treatment withheld because they no longer want to suffer and would rather die, and if medical practitioners comply with this request, all parties would be participating in euthanasia.  Conversely, if a suffering person is near death, and medicine and treatments are withheld because they are no longer helping the individual, then the parties would not be participating in euthanasia.  Factors such as cost, burden and ordinary vs. extraordinary treatments must also be considered. 

Because unique situations sometimes arise when making end-of-life decisions, the National Catholic Bioethics Center has valuable resources at https://www.ncbcenter.org/.  Parish priests and trained diocesan personnel (https://www.sdcatholic.org/office-for/life-peace-and-justice/culture-of-life/#) may also be contacted.