“Euthanasia literally means “good death.” Among the Ancient Greeks, the term was descriptive, referring to the happy circumstance of dying after a long and full life, surrounded by family and friends, and free from pain and suffering – an ideal scenario for life’s end. In recent years, however, some use this term to refer to the active ending of life to alleviate physical and/or psychological suffering. The Church defines the term: “by euthanasia is understood an action or an omission which of itself or by intention causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia Jura et Bona [May 5, 1980], n. 2).
Assisted suicide is simply one form of euthanasia in which the person directly ends his or her own life rather than indirectly by the action of another person. It is the intentional destruction of one’s own life, that life which is a gift from God meant to be stewarded with gratitude and humility. It is thus an act of suicide and condemned by the Church as gravely immoral, both for the victim and for anyone who assists him or her.
Assisted suicide is sometimes discussed as a form of “mercy” – a way of avoiding suffering when possible, even by causing death, rather than enduring pain, despair, or a sense of being a burden to others. The Catholic tradition rejects it as a false form of mercy. We agree fully that suffering is an evil to avoid when reasonably possible and we support pain and symptom management to alleviate physical discomfort and psychological distress. In fact, the Catholic tradition supports the palliation of pain by medications, even when this may hasten the person’s death. But directly acting to end a person’s life is not the moral means to alleviate suffering.”
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