Those who opt for the “intrinsically evil” act of euthanasia cannot receive the sacraments or be accompanied by a priest at the moment of their death, the Vatican has said.

– “Euthanasia is an act of homicide that no end can justify and that does not tolerate any form of complicity”

“Euthanasia is an act of homicide that no end can justify and that does not tolerate any form of complicity or active or passive collaboration”, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said in a new letter made public Tuesday, Samaritanus bonus (“The Good Samaritan”), “on the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life”.

CDF Prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria and Secretary Giacomo Morandi said that their letter was prompted by the moral need “to avoid an unbalanced and dehumanizing use” of new medical technologies in the field of healthcare, but also by laws around the world providing for assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The Vatican officials decried a “false understanding of ‘compassion'” prevalent in our world today, along with the rise in individualism, “the most hidden malady of our time”, and what Pope Francis has defined as the “throw-away culture” that has taken hold, “where the victims are the weakest human beings, who are likely to be ‘discarded’ when the system aims for efficiency at all costs”.

In the face of those phenomena, the CDF heads insisted that “the Church is obliged to intervene in order to exclude once again all ambiguity in the teaching of the Magisterium concerning euthanasia and assisted suicide”.

– Euthanasia laws “a sign of the degradation of legal systems”

“Euthanasia and assisted suicide are a defeat for those who theorize about them, who decide upon them, or who practice them”, the CDF declared in its letter today, which it said was approved by Pope Francis on June 25.

Not only is it illicit for terminal patients to request to end their life, the CDF said, but it is also “gravely unjust to enact laws that legalize euthanasia or justify and support suicide, invoking the false right to choose a death improperly characterized as respectable only because it is chosen”.

“The legitimation of assisted suicide and euthanasia is a sign of the degradation of legal systems”, the CDF warned lawmakers, adding that “there is no right to suicide nor to euthanasia: laws exist, not to cause death, but to protect life and to facilitate co-existence among human beings”.

The CDF also reminded Catholic healthcare workers and institutions that “in the face of the legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide – even when viewed simply as another form of medical assistance – formal or immediate material cooperation must be excluded”.

The Vatican doctrinal body called on hospitals and clinics to likewise “resist the strong economic pressures that may sometimes induce them to accept the practice of euthanasia”, and also insisted that governments and institutions must “safeguard the right of conscientious objection in regulatory contexts where euthanasia and suicide are sanctioned”.

The CDF also reminded priests and other Catholic pastoral workers that a patient’s willingness to end their life voluntarily “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 CDF stressed.

It also said that chaplains and other pastoral workers must “avoid any gesture, such as remaining until the euthanasia is performed, that could be interpreted as approval of this action”.

– ‘Yes’ to palliative care, but without provisions for a voluntary death

Instead of assisted suicide and euthanasia, the CDF reaffirmed today in its letter the value of palliative care and accompaniment of the terminally ill person.

Defining that palliative medicine as “an authentic expression of the human and Christian activity of providing care, the tangible symbol of the compassionate ‘remaining’ at the side of the suffering person”, the CDF called for techniques of pain relief and the satisfaction of affective and spiritual needs at the end of life to be extended “to those who need them, within the limits of what is fiscally possible”.

However, it warned against including under the umbrella of palliative care any recourse to assisted suicide or euthanasia, as in the Canadian Medical Assistance to the Dying (MAiD) program.

“Such legal provisions are a cause of grave cultural confusion: by including under palliative care the provision of integrated medical assistance for a voluntary death, they imply that it would be morally lawful to request euthanasia or assisted suicide”, the CDF warned.

Concluding their letter, the CDF Prefect and Secretary recalled that “the Church learns from the Good Samaritan how to care for the terminally ill”, as summed up in John Paul II’s commandment in his encyclical letter Evangelium vitae to “respect, defend, love and serve life, every human life!”.

“The greatest misery consists in the loss of hope in the face of death”, the CDF authorities warned, stressing that Catholics “are called to live with faith the duty to accompany the sick in all of the stages of illness, and in particular in the critical and terminal stages of life”.

More on Novena on the Church and the euthanasia debate:

Doctrine, compassion, vengeance and money create perfect storm for euthanasia row in Belgian hospitals

91% of Dutch Catholics in favour of euthanasia

Church goes to war over assisted suicide: ultraconservative Dutch cardinal contradicts Vatican official

Vatican archbishop encourages faithful to physically “accompany” dying by assisted suicide

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.