Q. Why does the Catholic Church teach that Human Life is sacred?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right to destroy an innocent human being” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258).
Q. What is Christian Hope?
Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire and expect from God both eternal life and the grace we need to attain it. Thus, it is by Christian Hope that we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. We can, therefore, hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere “to the end” (Matthew 10:22).
Q. What is “medical assistance in dying” (MAiD)?
Canadian legislation defines “MAiD” as a process that allows someone who is found eligible to be able to receive assistance from a medical practitioner in ending their life. There are two methods available:
Method 1 – Euthanasia: a physician or nurse practitioner directly administers a substance that causes death, such as an injection of a drug. This is sometimes called clinician-administered medical assistance in dying. More than 90% of “MAiD” deaths in Canada are by euthanasia.
Method 2 – Assisted Suicide: a physician or nurse practitioner provides or prescribes a drug that eligible persons take themselves, in order to bring about their own death. This is sometimes called self-administered medical assistance in dying.
Q. Why might a person request euthanasia or assisted suicide?
Studies show that most people who ask for euthanasia or assisted suicide do so, not because of physical pain, but because of fear or anxiety about their situation. They may feel that they are or will become a burden to others, or believe that their quality of life has diminished or will diminish over time. They may fear losing their autonomy and the ability to make decisions about their own lives. These feelings and the suffering they bring can be much more difficult to deal with than physical pain.
Q. What does the Catholic Church teach about euthanasia and assisted suicide?
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, our Creator. As such, the Catholic Church is strongly opposed to any form of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Even when the state legally permits euthanasia and assisted suicide, as it does in Canada, Catholics are not to take part in it, neither for themselves nor with or for another person.
Q. Why does the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton not use the term “MAiD”?
The term “MAiD” is ambiguous and misleading, since “medical assistance in dying” can also mean – as it always has – accompanying a patient with good medical care as they approach natural death. Euphemisms like “medical assistance in dying” and “dying with dignity” are just that – euphemisms. That is, innocuous words or expressions that veil the truth. Ask yourself: Why do the promoters of euthanasia and assisted suicide use euphemisms like “MAiD” or “dying with dignity,” if euthanasia is such a “beautiful” and “dignified” experience? Why not just call it what it is: the direct killing of a human being.
Q. What does the Catholic Church have against “dying with dignity”?
Catholic teaching against euthanasia and assisted suicide is typically overshadowed by messages that promote “MAiD” as something “merciful” and “beautiful.” The essence of this message is that “dignity” is synonymous with “autonomy.” If you control your life and death, you have dignity; if you lose control, you lose your dignity.
But our human dignity does not come from our ability to control our lives. Rather, it is rooted in our creation in the image and likeness of God. Our dignity shines forth when our will conforms to the will of God and the good He has promised us. Our lives ultimately belong to God. That means we do not have complete autonomy to dispose of them as we wish.
Q. Does the Catholic Church want people to suffer?
No, the Church does not want people to suffer. Since the very beginning, Christians have reached out to those who suffer, bringing to them the healing touch of Jesus Christ. In her concern for those who suffer, the Church established the first hospitals and continues to care for the sick and dying in modern Catholic hospitals, hospices, shelters, and through other care ministries. Suffering is a reality that we as Christians approach in the light of the suffering endured by Jesus Christ. From our Lord we learn that we are never alone in our suffering. His special love for the sick and his acts of healing call us, too, to be close to any who suffer and strive to lessen their pain whenever possible. Although we might not fully understand the mystery of suffering, our Catholic faith provides meaning and hope that our suffering will bear fruit that is everlasting. Christ wants us to share in his suffering so that we, too, may share in his glory. Suffering in no way diminishes human dignity and should never be used to justify an act that is morally wrong.
Q. Why can’t I simply follow my own conscience in making decisions about the end-of-life?
You can and should follow your conscience, if it is well-formed. “A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgements according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1798).
A good conscience decision is the best we can do at some points in our lives, and the Church recognizes this fact. As long as we inform our conscience prayerfully and to the best of our ability, then any decision we make will be a good one. At the same time, we must remember that sometimes our conscience decisions can turn out to be wrong. We have to be careful, therefore, not to treat our own conscience decisions as infallible and must accept that there is wisdom in Church teaching, which inevitably surpasses our own.
Moreover, we should not forget that we are interconnected and that what we do as individuals very often has repercussions in society. Our moral actions have further-reaching consequences than may first appear.
Adapted from Bioethics Matters (2023) by Dr. Moira McQueen, pp. 38-39. See also Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1776-1802.