Catholic Teaching

“Human life is a sacred gift from a loving God who created and redeemed us. We live our earthly lives knowing that God constantly extends his hand in loving friendship to us and that our union with him will be complete in heaven.  Our faith teaches that death is not an end, but rather a transition to eternal life with God. God created us to be one with him, body and soul, in heaven!”
- A Guide to Making Good Decisions for the End of Life, WSCC

The Catholic faith encourages prayerful reflection on death and responsible preparation for it in light of Church teachings. There are sound principles for making decisions about initiating or continuing medical treatments. Because human life is a gift from God, humans have a duty to cherish, respect, nurture and preserve it. Moreover, because Catholics believe that through death we enter eternal life, we also see the end of life as a sacred time, one during which our passage to God takes place in a prayerful, loving, caring, and medically appropriate environment.

Every person experiences suffering.  The Christian faith teaches that meaning can be found in suffering, yet no one is obliged to experience pain.  Today, in most cases it is possible to relieve pain through the appropriate use of pain medication and other treatments.

Catholics believe that death is the door to eternal life. When facing death, questions sometimes arise regarding the use of ordinary and extraordinary means.  “Ordinary means” are all medicines, treatments, procedures and technology that offer a reasonable hope of benefit and which can be obtained without excessive pain, expense or burden. “Extraordinary means” refers to all medicines, treatments, procedures and technology that do not offer a reasonable hope of benefit or cannot be obtained or used without excessive pain, expense or burden. Catholics have a moral obligation to use ordinary means to preserve their lives. They also may choose to use extraordinary means, but they have no obligation to do so.

In the Ethical and Religious Directives, the U.S. Bishops state, “The truth that life is a precious gift from God has profound implications for the question of stewardship over human life. We are not the owners of our lives and, hence, do not have absolute power over life. We have a duty to preserve our life and to use it for the glory of God, but the duty to preserve life is not absolute, for we may reject life-prolonging procedures that are insufficiently beneficial or excessively burdensome. Suicide and euthanasia are never morally acceptable options.”

Assisted suicide is the intentional taking of life and contradicts that God alone has sovereignty over life. Obtaining a lethal prescription to commit suicide is never permissible. On the other hand, withdrawing “extraordinary means” of medical treatment is morally permissible because by allowing nature to take its course, death occurs naturally. There is no intention to kill the person.

It is appropriate to seek guidance about the use of life sustaining treatments.  The use of advance directives, a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care, will allow individuals to make known their wishes. To help, the Bishops of Washington State have prepared A Guide to Making Good Decisions for the End of Life: Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.

For additional information:

Now and at the Hour of Our Death: Catholic Guidance for End-of-Life Decision Making, New York State Catholic Conference, 2015

To Live Each Day with Dignity: A Statement on Assisted Suicide, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011

Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), St. John Paul II, 1995, especially sections 64-67

Killing the Pain, Not the Patient: Palliative Care vs. Assisted Suicide, Richard Doerflinger and Carlos F. Gomez, M.D., Ph.D