ROME — No good intentions can justify the intentional killing of an innocent person, the Vatican reiterated Tuesday in a new document condemning euthanasia and assisted suicide.
With the explicit approval of Pope Francis, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has published a 13,000-word teaching letter called Samaritanus Bonus (“Good Samaritan”) on the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life.
In the powerfully worded text, the Vatican denounced not only those who partake directly in euthanasia or assisted suicide, but also those who support it politically, with arguments that could be used for the abortion issue as well.
“Therefore, euthanasia is an act of homicide that no end can justify and that does not tolerate any form of complicity or active or passive collaboration,” the document states. “Those who approve laws of euthanasia and assisted suicide, therefore, become accomplices of a grave sin that others will execute.”
“They are also guilty of scandal because by such laws they contribute to the distortion of conscience, even among the faithful,” the text adds.
Euthanasia is “an intrinsically evil act, in every situation or circumstance,” the Vatican declares. “Any formal or immediate material cooperation in such an act is a grave sin against human life. No authority can legitimately recommend or permit such an action.”
Euthanasia is not only a question of the violation of the divine law, the letter states, but is also “an offense against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack on humanity.”
Earlier this year, the pope told healthcare workers to “promote the dignity and life of each person, and reject any compromise in the direction of euthanasia, assisted suicide or suppression of life, even in the case of terminal illness.”
“Let us remember that life is sacred and belongs to God; hence it is inviolable and no one can claim the right to dispose of it freely,” Francis said. “Life must be welcomed, protected, respected and served from its beginning to its end: both human reason and faith in God, the author of life, require this.”
In Tuesday’s text, the Vatican insisted that every life “has the same value and dignity for everyone: the respect of the life of another is the same as the respect owed to one’s own life.”
Among its pithy maxims, the text said that assisting in a suicide “is an unjustified collaboration in an unlawful act,” that euthanasia and assisted suicide “are always the wrong choice,” and that “no health care worker can be compelled to execute a non-existent right.”
“This is why euthanasia and assisted suicide are a defeat for those who theorize about them, who decide upon them, or who practice them,” it states.
“For this reason, 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,” the text declares.
The Vatican said that the letter “seeks to enlighten pastors and the faithful regarding their questions and uncertainties about medical care, and their spiritual and pastoral obligations to the sick in the critical and terminal stages of life.”
Regarding assisted suicide, the Vatican asserts that certain things should never be done to another person, even when they request it.
“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,” it declares.
The Church “is obliged to intervene in order to exclude once again all ambiguity in the teaching of the Magisterium concerning euthanasia and assisted suicide, even where these practices have been legalized,” the letter states.
For these reasons, “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 adds.
The text criticizes the widespread use of medical end-of-life protocols such as the Do Not Resuscitate Order or the Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment, which were initially intended to avoid aggressive medical treatment in the terminal phases of life but often deprive physicians of their freedom and duty to safeguard life even where they could do so.
The document also distinguishes between “aggressive medical treatments,” which “artificially delay death, often without real benefit to the patient,” and “therapeutic care” that without undue burden to the patient, assist biological functions so the person can continue living.
“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 text insists.
The document underscores that the “required basic care for each person” includes “the administration of the nourishment and fluids needed to maintain bodily homeostasis, insofar as and until this demonstrably attains the purpose of providing hydration and nutrition for the patient.”
Although it principally addresses euthanasia and assisted suicide, the Vatican text also touches on the matter of abortion.
“Abortion consists in the deliberate killing of an innocent human life and as such it is never lawful,” the document states. “The use of prenatal diagnosis for selective purposes is contrary to the dignity of the person and gravely unlawful because it expresses a eugenic mentality.”