ROME – As several countries throughout Europe move toward broadening access to euthanasia, the Vatican released a new document reaffirming its teaching on medically assisted death, insisting that it is ‘poisonous’ to society and stressed that those who choose it are unable to access the sacraments unless they reverse their decision.
“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,” the Vatican said in a new document released by its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Published Sept. 22, the document, titled, “Samaritanus bonus: on the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life,” was signed by the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, and its secretary, Archbishop Giacomo Morandi.
To end the life of a sick person who requests euthanasia, the document said, “is by no means to acknowledge and respect their autonomy,” but rather disavows “both their freedom, now under the sway of suffering and illness, and of their life by excluding any further possibility of human relationship, of sensing the meaning of their existence.”
“Moreover, it is to take the place of God in deciding the moment of death,” it said, adding that it is for this reason that “abortion, euthanasia and willful self-destruction (…) poison human society” and “do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury.”
In December 2019, the Vatican’s top official on life issues, Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, caused a stir when he said that he would hold the hand of someone dying from assisted suicide.
In the Vatican’s new text, it was stressed that those who are assisting people who choose euthanasia in a spiritual capacity “should avoid any gesture, such as remaining until the euthanasia is performed, that could be interpreted as approval of this action.”
“Such a presence could imply complicity in this act,” it said, adding that this is particularly applicable, but is not limited, to, “chaplains in the healthcare systems where euthanasia is practiced, for they must not give scandal by behaving in a manner that makes them complicit in the termination of human life.”
In terms of the hearing a person’s confession, the Vatican insisted that in order to grant absolution, a confessor must have assurances that the person has the “true contrition” required in order for the absolution to be valid, consisting of “sorrow of mind and a detestation for sin committed, with the purpose of not sinning for the future.”
When it comes to euthanasia, “we find ourselves before a person who, whatever their subjective dispositions may be, has decided upon a gravely immoral act and willingly persists in this decision,” the Vatican said, insisting that in these cases, the person’s state “involves a manifest absence of the proper disposition for the reception of the Sacraments of Penance, with absolution, and Anointing, with Viaticum.”
“Such a penitent can receive these sacraments only when the minister discerns his or her readiness to take concrete steps that indicate he or she has modified their decision in this regard,” the Vatican said.
However, the Vatican stressed that “postponing” absolution in these cases does not imply judgement, since the person’s personal responsibility in the matter “could be diminished or non-existent,” depending on the gravity of their illness.
A priest could, they said, administer the sacraments to a person who is unconscious, so long as they received “some signal given by the patient beforehand, he can presume his or her repentance.”
“The position of the Church here does not imply a non-acceptance of the sick person,” the Vatican said, insisting that those who accompany them must have “a willingness to listen and to help, together with a deeper explanation of the nature of the sacrament, in order to provide the opportunity to desire and choose the sacrament up to the last moment.”
The Vatican’s letter came out as numerous countries throughout Europe are considering widening access to euthanasia and assisted suicide.
On Saturday Pope Francis met with the heads of the Spanish bishops’ conference to express concern over a new bill to legalize euthanasia put forward to Spain’s Senate.
Should the bill pass, Spain would become the fourth European country to legalize physician-assisted suicide following Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. In Italy, Pope Francis’s own backyard, euthanasia has not yet been legalized, but the country’s top court ruled last year that in cases of “intolerable physical and psychological suffering,” it should not be considered illegal.
The Vatican stressed that every health care worker is called not merely to perform their technical duties, but to help every patient develop a “a deep awareness of their existence,” even in cases where a cure is unlikely or impossible.
“Every individual who cares for the sick (physician, nurse, relative, volunteer, pastor) has the moral responsibility to apprehend the fundamental and inalienable good that is the human person,” the text says. “They should adhere to the highest standards of self-respect and respect for others by embracing, safeguarding and promoting human life until natural death.”
Care, the document stresses never ends, even when treatment is no longer justified.
On that basis, the document issues a firm “no” to euthanasia and assisted suicide.
“To end the life of a sick person who requests euthanasia is by no means to acknowledge and respect their autonomy, but on the contrary to disavow the value of both their freedom, now under the sway of suffering and illness, and of their life by excluding any further possibility of human relationship, of sensing the meaning of their existence, or of growth in the theologal life.”
“It is to take the place of God in deciding the moment of death,” the document says.
Euthnasia amounts to “a crime against human life because, in this act, one chooses directly to cause the death of another innocent human being… Euthanasia, therefore, is an intrinsically evil act, in every situation or circumstance,” calling that teaching “definitive.”
The congregation also stresses the importance of “accompaniment,” meaning personal pastoral care for sick and dying people.
“Every sick person has the need not only to be heard, but to understand that their interlocutor ‘knows’ what it means to feel alone, neglected, and tormented by the prospect of physical pain,” the document says. “Added to this is the suffering caused when society equates their value as persons to their quality of life and makes them feel like a burden to others.”
“While essential and invaluable, palliative care in itself is not enough unless there is someone who ‘remains’ at the bedside of the sick to bear witness to their unique and unrepeatable value… In intensive care units or centers for chronic illness care, one can be present merely as a functionary, or as someone who “remains” with the sick.
The document also warns of a diminishing respect for human life in society at large.
“According to this view, a life whose quality seems poor does not deserve to continue. Human life is thus no longer recognized as a value in itself,” it said. The document faults a false sense of compassion behind the growing press for euthanasia, as well as spreading inivdualism.
Life, the document says, “is increasingly valued on the basis of its efficiency and utility, to the point of considering as ‘discarded lives’ or ‘unworthy lives’ those who do not meet this criterion.
”In this situation of the loss of authentic values, the mandatory obligations of solidarity and of human and Christian fraternity also fail. In reality, a society deserves the status of ‘civil’ if it develops antibodies against the culture of waste; if it recognizes the intangible value of human life; if solidarity is factually practiced and safeguarded as a foundation for living together,” it said.