VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican has categorically condemned euthanasia "in every situation or circumstance" as "an intrinsically evil act," in the Church's strongest magisterial pronouncement to date "on the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life."
"Euthanasia is an act of homicide that no end can justify," the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) declared Tuesday in its letter Samaritanus Bonus (Good Samaritan).
Excoriating the utilitarianism that measures the intrinsic value of human life by "quality of life," the CDF slammed the euphemism of "dignified death," noting that if "a life whose quality seems poor does not deserve to continue," human life is "no longer recognized as a value in itself."
The CDF letter reserved its fiercest rebuke for "those who approve laws of euthanasia and assisted suicide" as "accomplices of a grave sin that others will execute."
Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the CDF, told Vatican News that Samaritanus Bonus had become necessary in the light of " increasingly permissive international civil law on euthanasia, assisted suicide and end of life provisions."
"It is gravely unjust to enact laws that legalize euthanasia or justify and support suicide, invoking the false right to choose a death improperly characterized as respectable only because it is chosen" as "such laws strike at the foundation of the legal order: The right to life sustains all other rights, including the exercise of freedom," Samaritanus Bonus noted.
"Just as we cannot make another person our slave, even if they ask to be, so we cannot directly choose to take the life of another, even if they request it," the CDF reasoned, as "it is to take the place of God in deciding the moment of death."
Upholding the Good Samaritan as a paradigm of "care for the terminally ill," the CDF document debunked "a false understanding of compassion" that was used to justify killing a patient, saying true "compassion consists not in causing death, but in embracing the sick" and supporting them to the very end using all "means to alleviate their suffering."
Explaining the need for a pastoral resource for hospital chaplains, medical professionals and family members in health care settings, the CDF described situations of abuse where "neither patients nor families are consulted in final decisions about care," especially in the case of medical protocols such as the "Do Not Resuscitate Order."
"This happens above all in the countries where, with the legalization of euthanasia, wide margins of ambiguity are left open in end-of-life law regarding the meaning of obligations to provide care," it explained.
"The Church is convinced of the necessity to reaffirm as definitive teaching that euthanasia is a crime against human life because, in this act, one chooses directly to cause the death of another innocent human being," it asserted.
"To precipitate death or delay it through 'aggressive medical treatments' deprives death of its due dignity," and "it is lawful according to science and conscience to renounce treatments that provide only a precarious or painful extension of life," the CDF advised.
The CDF also warned hospital chaplains to "avoid any gesture, such as remaining until the euthanasia is performed, that could be interpreted as approval of this action" when the patients "expressly ask" for euthanasia or assisted suicide.
In offering absolution or extreme unction, CDF clarified, "a penitent can receive these sacraments only when the minister discerns his or her readiness to take concrete steps that indicate he or she has modified their decision in this regard" and "a person who may be registered in an association to receive euthanasia or assisted suicide must manifest the intention of cancelling such a registration before receiving the sacraments."
In 2019, Abp. Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, sparked controversy when he said he would he would "hold the hand" of someone dying from assisted suicide. He added: "According to us, no one should be abandoned," acknowledging "we are against assisted suicide because we don't want to do death's dirty work."
Responding to questions arising from numerous recent legal cases regarding the withdrawal of life-sustaining care, the document clarified:
It is not lawful to suspend treatments that are required to maintain essential physiological functions, as long as the body can benefit from them (such as hydration, nutrition, thermoregulation, proportionate respiratory support and the other types of assistance needed to maintain bodily homeostasis and manage systemic and organic pain). The suspension of futile treatments must not involve the withdrawal of therapeutic care.
Catholic teaching invokes the moral category of "intrinsic evil" to describe acts "that can never be morally justified or permitted, regardless of the intention of the person who performs them or any circumstances within which they take place."
The concept is "one of the most sweeping, categorical and absolute phrases that has ever been employed by the hierarchical teaching authority" of the Catholic Church, wrote Nenad Polgar and Joseph Selling in The Concept of Intrinsic Evil and Catholic Theological Ethics.
Homosexual acts and abortion are also classified as "intrinsically evil" in Catholic moral theology.
"To assert that some acts are intrinsically evil is to affirm the Pauline principle that it is not permissible to do evil that good might come out of it (Romans 3:8)," writes moral theologian John O'Neill.
"To affirm that principle is to deny consequentialism" and "one reason Catholic teaching remains influential — especially in the sphere of medical ethics — is that it offers a theoretically grounded opposition to the consequentialism that dominates discussion," he maintains.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2276-2279) forbids euthanasia as "morally unacceptable ... whatever its motives and means" but refrains from assigning it the non-negotiable category of "intrinsic evil."
Liberal Catholic hospitals in Europe have openly or covertly rejected Church teaching on euthanasia in recent years with the Belgian Brothers of Charity hospital network voting in 2017 to allow the killing of psychiatric patients under certain conditions.
In May, the CDF told 15 Brothers of Charity hospitals they could no longer identify as Catholic organizations.
Euthanasia has been legalized in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada and part of Australia and is being currently debated in the traditionally Catholic countries of Spain and Portugal.
Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany and the American states of California, Washington and New Jersey.