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John Chapman wrote:

Dear AskACatholic,

My question has to do with the Church's teaching on assisted suicide. I know that we believe euthanasia and assisted suicide is intrinsically evil, but a relative and friend of mine posed to me the following scenario which seeks to challenge the Church's teaching on this matter:

You have someone who is in the final stages of Cancer (for this argument, we're going to assume that the person will die within the next ten days). He is in extreme pain and is not responding to any pain killers. The only way to stop the pain is to put him in a medically induced coma and to wait for nature to take its course.

My opponents stated that in such a scenario, isn't it better to just end the person's life right then and there since they are no longer conscious.

In other words, the person is really no longer living and is no longer capable of self-awareness. My opponents argue that at such a point, you are only prolonging biological functions, not life proper.

  • Furthermore, as someone who believes in the existence of the soul, isn't it cruel for me to force the soul to remain trapped in the prison of its body where it is no longer conscious of itself and can't even do anything?
  • Lastly, isn't preserving the person, reduced to this sad condition, a waste of medical resources when there may be other patients who are not terminally ill and who still have a chance to live a normal, healthy life?

This argument has been tough for me to cope with because their points seem valid, but it would require me to reject a doctrine of the faith! Furthermore, the Church's teaching in the Catechism does not seem to address this kind of scenario adequately.

Surely there's an answer that shows care for the dying person without rejecting the infallibility of Christ and His Church!

Thank you for your time, and God bless,

John

  { Can you help me answer this challenge to the Church's teaching on assisted suicide? }

Mike replied:

Dear John,

Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. You are asking me questions based on a set of premises which are false.

You said:
You have someone who is in the final stages of Cancer (for this argument, we're going to assume that the person will die within the next ten days). He is in extreme pain and is not responding to any pain killers. The only way to stop the pain is to put him in medically induced coma and to wait for nature to take its course.

Neither you, nor I, nor your friends can make any assumption that a person will die at any given time. To make probably erroneous assumptions and take lethal actions on those assumptions, amounts to killing a person before the Creator decides that person's journey is complete. Your other questions are based on the assumption that putting a dying person into a coma is the right thing.

There are times where it is medically sound and permissible to put someone in a coma if it involves a good intent and a positive prognosis.

You said:

  • Furthermore, as someone who believes in the existence of the soul, isn't it cruel for me to force the soul to remain trapped in the prison of its body where it is no longer conscious of itself and can't even do anything?
  • Do you currently see your soul as being trapped in your body?

We are a composite body-soul person. The body struggles with sin and concupiscence while the well-informed soul guides us to the good and holy.

The scenario your friends have given you should be seen as an opportune time for redemptive and purifying suffering of that person's soul. If they know little or nothing about the Christian faith, they won't be able to grasp this.

  • Who knows what is best for the soul?
    • you
    • me
    • your friends, or
    • the Creator of the soul, the Lord Himself?

The Catechism states:

366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God — it is not produced by the parents — and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.

You said:
Furthermore, the Church's teaching in the Catechism does not seem to address this kind of scenario adequately.

If that is your view, it may be because at the time the Catechism was published no doctor, in his right mind, would have ever thought of breaking the Hippocratic Oath. The word, assisted suicide, is not even found in the Catechism. Related to your question, this is what the Catechism does say:

Suicide

2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for His honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

So this hypothetical person with cancer is responsible for their soul, not your friends.

You said:
Surely there's an answer that shows care for the dying person without rejecting the infallibility of Christ and His Church!

  • Are you and your friends concerned for the care of the dying person or the emotional struggle of immediate family members involved in this serious illness?

I don't want you to think that I don't appreciate the burden this puts on families. For that reason, let me share with you the personal passing of my father.

Because there may be other issues I have overlooked, I've CC'd some of my colleagues so that you may get other replies.

Here are some other Resources:

I hope this helps,

Mike

Our Anonymous friend, Andrew replied:

Hi, Mike,

Here is an article from the USCCB's (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) medical ethics experts about the issue of pain control for terminal patients:

It points out an unpleasant fact about euthanasia:

The availability of assisted suicide as an option tends to reduce doctors' efforts at the more difficult task of alleviating pain.

— Andrew

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