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Vatican issues statement on end-of-life care, condemns euthanasia

September 22, 2020

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has issued a statement strongly reaffirming the Church’s ban on euthanasia as “intrinsically evil.”

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The CDF statement, released on September 22, comes in response to a new drive for legal acceptance of physician-assisted suicide, particularly in European nations. Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the prefect of the CDF, told reporters that at a plenary session in 2018, the members of the congregation had agreed on “the expediency of a document that would deal with this, not only in a doctrinally correct manner, but also using strong pastoral tones and comprehensible language, in keeping with the progress of the medical sciences.”

The Vatican statement is addressed not merely to the issue of euthanasia, but to the broader issue of “the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life.” The statement itself acknowledges: “It is widely recognized that a moral and practical clarification regarding care of these persons is needed.”

In treating patients, the CDF says, caretakers should are called to “reveal the original and unconditional love of God, the source of the meaning of all life.” Loving care for the person, and respect for the person’s dignity, are the major imperatives.

In cases of terminal illness, the Vatican statement says:

The impossibility of a cure where death is imminent does not entail the cessation of medical and nursing activity. Responsible communication with the terminally ill person should make it clear that care will be provided until the very end: “to cure if possible, always to care.”

The CDF argues that the case for acceptance of euthanasia is based on a “false compassion,” reflecting a notion that suffering must be avoided at all costs. “In reality,” the statement insists, “human compassion consists not in causing death, but in embracing the sick, in supporting them in their difficulties, in offering them affection, attention, and the means to alleviate their suffering.”

Palliative care, offered to ease pain, is an important part of the proper treatment, the CDF acknowledges. But “palliative care is not in itself enough unless there is someone who ‘remains’ at the bedside of the sick to bear witness to their unique and unrepeatable value.” The Vatican statement notes that patients with terminal illness often suffer from loneliness and isolation. In fact, the statement remarks:

Experience confirms that the pleas of gravely ill people who sometimes ask for death are not to be understood as implying a true desire for euthanasia; in fact, it is almost always a case of an anguished plea for help and love.

Euthanasia, the CDF states plainly, “is an act of homicide that no end can justify.” Laws that allow for assisted suicide “strike at the foundation of the legal order,” and cooperation with euthanasia is itself morally unjustifiable.

While deliberately causing the death of an individual is never licit, the Vatican statement also insists that unduly aggressive medical treatments, when they simply prolong the process of death, are also an offense against the dignity of the patient. “Therefore, when death is imminent and inevitable, “it is lawful… to renounce treatments that provide only a precarious or painful extension of life.”

The CDF notes that “do not resuscitate” orders can “cause serious problems” by leading medical personnel to forego necessary treatment. While useful in avoiding unduly aggressive medical treatment, such orders can conflict with “the duty to protect the life of patients in the most critical stages of sickness.”

In end-of-life situations, the CDF says, the patient must always be provided with food and hydration “as long as the body can benefit from them.” Palliative care—even if it involves sedation powerful enough to cause a loss of consciousness—is recommended to ease suffering and “to ensure that the end of life arrives with the greatest possible peace and in the best internal conditions.”

Because of the increasing acceptance of euthanasia in the secular world, and pressure for health-care personnel to conform, the Vatican statement encourages Catholic institutions and communities to work for the protection of the conscience rights of health-care workers.

 


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