Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, our attention is focused on the mercy of God, who constantly offers us the gift of forgiveness. Additionally, we recognize in this celebration our own duty to imitate the Lord’s mercy, especially through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We are called to be people of mercy, of forgiveness, and to accept the merciful gaze of our Risen Savior. In our world today, there are many confused notions of mercy, and it is important to bring these into the light so that we can better understand that true mercy flows from God’s designs. Recently, one such misguided notion of mercy was brought to our area, as the Connecticut legislature considered legalizing physician assisted suicide. I would like here to clarify the Catholic Church’s teaching on so-called “mercy killing,” or euthanasia.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2277), succinctly states, “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.”
The Second Vatican Council, in Gaudium et Spes, teaches: “Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.”
Pope St. John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (which I highly recommend for reading), says, “Life is always a good. This is an instinctive perception and a fact of experience, and man is called to grasp the profound reason why this is so… Why is life a good?… The life which God gives man is quite different from the life of all other living creatures, inasmuch as man, although formed from the dust of the earth, is a manifestation of God in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory… Man has been given a sublime dignity, based on the intimate bond which unites him to his Creator: in man there shines forth a reflection of God himself.
He goes on to write, “Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart, is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. “Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action.”
Pope Francis, more recently, has pointed to euthanasia as a symptom of a “throwaway culture,” one in which human persons can be discarded when they become inconvenient. Indeed, physician assisted suicide, if legalized, can and will lead to a throwaway culture that allows human beings to be discarded, not by their free choice, but by the ruling of the state. Pope Francis says, “The practice of euthanasia, which has already become legal in several states, only seemingly aims to encourage personal freedom; in reality it is based on a utilitarian view of the person, who becomes useless or can be equated to a cost, if from the medical point of view he or she has no hope of improvement or can no longer avoid pain.” From all this, it is clear that Catholics are called to protect and defend human life in all its stages. No Catholic can claim the mantle of mercy in order to support euthanasia – to do so is a misrepresentation of true mercy and a rejection of the Catholic faith. Addressing Italian doctors, Pope Francis prayed “May He inspire all to be close to those who suffer. Closeness, that very important and much needed attitude. The Lord also implemented it, closeness, in our midst. May He inspire everyone to be close to those who suffer, to the little ones above all, and to put the weak in first place, so that they may nurture a more human society and relationships characterized by gratuitousness, rather than opportunity.”