Twelve points developed over twenty pages. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published, Tuesday, September 22, a dense document on the end of life. Entitled “The Good Samaritan, on caring for people in the critical and terminal phase of life”, the text does not change the doctrine but specifies the positions on euthanasia and assisted suicide expressed by the Catholic Church since 1980. Details made necessary by recent debates on these practices, going in some countries until their legalization.
Catholic hospitals cannot perform euthanasia
The Congregation is speaking out very clearly, and for the first time in these terms, against relentless therapy. The exclusion of any relentlessness is even, in his eyes, a « obligation morale ». “In the imminence of an inevitable death, it is therefore lawful, in science and in conscience, to take the decision to give up treatments which would only lead to a precarious and painful prolongation of life”, indicates the Congregation.
If the text is, by definition, general in scope, its authors, without ever citing them explicitly, allude to recent debates, in particular those which have taken place in Belgium or France. The Congregation confirms, for example, that hospitals displaying themselves as “Catholics”, cannot avail themselves of this title if they practice euthanasia or assisted suicide. The Holy See recently not allowed to the organization which manages the health works of the Brothers of Charity of Belgium to take advantage of the title of “Catholic” hospitals.
A full paragraph is devoted to the situation of people in a vegetative state and of minimal consciousness, such as Vincent Lambert, who died in July 2019 in Reims after ten years of legal battle. ” It is always totally misleading to think that the vegetative state and the state of minimal consciousness, in subjects who breathe independently, are the sign that the patient has ceased to be a human person with all the dignity that is due to him. clean », Says the text.
Nutrition and hydration, “Basic care”
These patients, add the authors, have the right “ to diet and hydration “, Which the Congregation considers as” basic care “. However, she admits that ” in some cases (artificial nutrition and hydration) may become disproportionate », Especially when they generate “Unacceptable suffering for the patient”.
Going into so much detail, the Congregation strikes a balance between the prohibition of euthanasia and the condemnation of relentless therapy. But it does not stop in the search for this crest line, by explicitly settling questions on the behavior to be taken in countries where euthanasia and assisted suicide are authorized.
This is the case with the very delicate point of the spiritual accompaniment of people who have chosen to shorten their lives. On this point, the doctrine is clear, says the Catholic Church: those who have made such a choice cannot receive the sacrament of reconciliation, and therefore the last sacraments. This is, according to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of“A person who, beyond his subjective dispositions, has made the choice of a seriously immoral act and perseveres in it freely”. “He will be able to receive these sacraments when his will to take concrete measures allows the minister (to the confessor, Editor’s note) to conclude that the penitent has changed his decision ”. And therefore to renounce any euthanasia or assisted suicide.
If the Congregation encourages spiritual listening, it nevertheless considers that it is “Not acceptable on the part of those who spiritually assist these patients to make any external gesture that can be interpreted as an approval of euthanasia, for example to remain present when it is carried out”. There again, an allusion to certain countries such as Belgium, where certain priests have developed farewell ceremonies, at the time of carrying out euthanasia. “Such a presence, decides the Congregation, can only be interpreted as a complicity ”.
“We cannot directly choose to harm the life of a human being”
Extract from the letter “Samaritanus bonus”, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“The inviolable value of life is a fundamental truth of natural moral law and an essential foundation of legal order. Just as we cannot accept that another man be our slave, even if he asks us to, we cannot directly choose to harm the life of a human being, even if he demands it. Consequently, suppressing a patient who requests euthanasia does not at all mean recognizing his autonomy and valuing it, but on the contrary, it is ignoring the value of his freedom, which is strongly conditioned by the disease. “