Is euthanasia the same as murder?
Fr. John Trigilio explains why assisted suicide is contrary to Church teaching . . .
Euthanasia — from the Greek eu thanatos meaning good death — is the intentional and deliberate ending of a human life either by withholding necessary, viable and ordinary treatment (passive euthanasia) or by introducing a substance or procedure that directly causes death (active euthanasia).
Both passive and active euthanasia are considered gravely evil and immoral and in the same moral category as abortion — that is, murder. Murder is the deliberate killing of an innocent person. The fifth commandment actually uses the word “murder,” which is rasah (Hebrew), phoneuo (Greek), and occides (Latin) as found in the original Biblical manuscripts. This means that the commandment literally says, “Thou shalt not murder” and not “Thou shalt not kill.”
Murder can be premeditated, a spontaneous but deliberate deadly assault, or it can be an unlawful killing of a human being without malice. These are all forbidden by the fifth commandment. Equivalent acts would also include any and all unjust killing, such as abortion or euthanasia where death is directly intended and achieved — regardless of the motive or consequences.
Patients are never obligated to endure painful procedures which are worse than their current condition and which do not have a reasonable hope of success. During the Civil War, many soldiers died not from war injuries but from the results of medical procedures like infections from botched amputations. In such cases, refusal of these “extraordinary means” would not be considered euthanasia. Today, however, with the progress of medicine, technology, and rehabilitative treatment, drastic procedures like amputation can be done, and survivors usually live and adapt to their disability.
Dying patients are allowed to be given as much pain medication as their bodies can tolerate as long as the dosage itself does not directly cause death. Too much morphine can stop breathing, whereas monitored amounts can keep a person relaxed and comfortable.
So-called “mercy killing” and the efforts of the Hemlock Society and the late Dr. Jack Kevorkian to make euthanasia socially acceptable are condemned by the Church. God alone should decide when someone leaves this earth — not the patient, doctor, or caretaker. Keeping the dying patient pain-free, comfortable, clean, nourished, and hydrated — and just allowing the natural death process to take its course — is how human beings die with dignity.
Use of a feeding tube or insertion of a tracheotomy are also considered ordinary means and both were administered to Blessed Pope John Paul II a month before his death and one year after he issued a statement clarifying that ordinary means and ordinary medical care (shelter, warmth, and dignified respect) must be given to all patients — even those in a persistent vegetative condition. Ordinary does not mean just what is natural, but includes all modern medical procedures which are typically, routinely and successfully performed.
Reprinted with permission from “The Catholicism Answer Book: The 300 Most Frequently Asked Questions” by Rev. John Trigilio Jr. and Rev. Kenneth D. Brighenti (Sourcebooks, 2007).
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.
Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate.
Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2277-2279