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Assisted Suicide: How Should Catholics Respond?


John Hymes

Stockton, Ca.

In the news recently we have read about the Supreme Court’s decision to reaffirm the rights of states in deciding whether or not doctors can prescribe lethal medications for “terminal” patients. Barbara Coombs, president of “Compassion in Dying”, the group that sponsored Oregon’s suicide law, hailed the decision, saying that it “reaffirms the liberty, dignity and privacy Americans cherish at the end of life.” Does it really do what she contends and what should we, as Catholic Christians, think about this?

The first thing we should think is how fortunate we are to belong to a Church that understands human nature as God intended us to understand it. In our human frailty, we are driven to avoid suffering, seemingly, at all costs. However, Christianity is the religion of the cross, and, as such, reminds her adherents to ask themselves: if Christ set an example of profound suffering for our Redemption, how is it possible

that we shall escape suffering? And further, can’t we see that our suffering binds us to Him, mysteriously, in the eternal? Remember, God operates in the here and now; He is not limited by time. When we suffer, we are literally present with Jesus. 

If we are fortunate enough to understand suffering in the light of the Church, we can appreciate that all suffering is oriented toward the good. Of course, we cannot now understand how God uses our suffering to advance our betterment--or someone else’s--but, a singular fact of history: that Jesus taught us how to suffer, is proof positive that there is no such thing as purposeless suffering. All suffering is of immeasurable value. The fact that many people fail to understand this, affects not the eternal point: God understands it. 

Groups who lobby for “compassionately” putting the suffering down, obviously fail to understand how God might use suffering in this world. They also fail to recognize that all of us exist through the cooperation of our mothers, fathers, and the will of God. God himself is the Author of Life. While our physical bodies may return to the earth, once a human soul is willed into existence, it lives forever. By what reasoning, then, does mankind have any right whatsoever, to interrupt a plan of life ordained by God? How can we possibly know the role that suffering plays in anyone’s life, or how that suffering may affect their eternal flame? 

Of course, we don’t know, because we don’t own our bodies. God owns them. We are merely the stewards, and we should expect to see God on His timeline, not ours. Near the end, it is neither dignified nor compassionate to terminate a life before its time. The Church’s Catechism states it this way: “Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect...thus, an act or omission which, of itself or by interjection, causes death in order to eliminate suffering, constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the

human person...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.” (CCC 2276). 

Whatever you prefer to call it: “assisted suicide”, “physician-assisted dying”, or “death with dignity”, this sin is a monstrous assault on the dignity of the human person and a foolish provocation of God’s patience. All Christians are admonished to appeal to the good, just, and merciful God we worship, and reject this horrendous moral act. 

We remind you that our good, just, and merciful God cannot--by his very nature--allow meaningless and purposeless suffering. Think about it. Pray about it. 



Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved