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|Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith|
Declaration on Euthanasia
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The rights and values pertaining to the human person occupy an important place among the questions discussed today. In this regard, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council solemnly reaffirmed the lofty dignity of the human person, and in a special way his or her right to life. The Council therefore condemned crimes against life "such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful suicide" (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, no. 27). More recently, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has reminded all the faithful of Catholic teaching on procured abortion. 1 The Congregation now considers it opportune to set forth the Church's teaching on euthanasia. It is indeed true that, in this sphere of teaching, the recent Popes have explained the principles, and these retain their full force2; but the progress of medical science in recent years has brought to the fore new aspects of the question of euthanasia, and these aspects call for further elucidation on the ethical level. In modern society, in which even the fundamental values of human life are often called into question, cultural change exercises an influence upon the way of looking at suffering and death; moreover, medicine has increased its capacity to cure and to prolong life in particular circumstances, which sometime give rise to moral problems. Thus people living in this situation experience no little anxiety about the meaning of advanced old age and death. They also begin to wonder whether they have the right to obtain for themselves or their fellowmen an "easy death," which would shorten suffering and which seems to them more in harmony with human dignity. A number of Episcopal Conferences have raised questions on this subject with the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Congregation, having sought the opinion of experts on the various aspects of euthanasia, now wishes to respond to the Bishops' questions with the present Declaration, in order to help them to give correct teaching to the faithful entrusted to their care, and to offer them elements for reflection that they can present to the civil authorities with regard to this very serious matter. The considerations set forth in the present document concern in the first place all those who place their faith and hope in Christ, who, through His life, death and resurrection, has given a new meaning to existence and especially to the death of the Christian, as St. Paul says: "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord" (Rom. 14:8; cf. Phil. 1:20). As for those who profess other religions, many will agree with us that faith in God the Creator, Provider and Lord of life - if they share this belief - confers a lofty dignity upon every human person and guarantees respect for him or her. It is hoped that this Declaration will meet with the approval of many people of good will, who, philosophical or ideological differences notwithstanding, have nevertheless a lively awareness of the rights of the human person. These rights have often, in fact, been proclaimed in recent years through declarations issued by International Congresses3; and since it is a question here of fundamental rights inherent in every human person, it is obviously wrong to have recourse to arguments from political pluralism or religious freedom in order to deny the universal value of those rights.
1 DECLARATION ON PROCURED ABORTION, November 18, 1974: AAS 66 (1974), pp. 730-747.
2 Pius XII, ADDRESS TO THOSE ATTENDING THE CONGRESS OF THE INTERNATIONAL UNION OF CATHOLIC WOMEN'S LEAGUES, September 11, 1947: AAS 39 (1947), p. 483; ADDRESS TO THE ITALIAN CATHOLIC UNION OF MIDWIVES, October 29, 1951: AAS 43 (1951), pp. 835-854; SPEECH TO THE MEMBERS OF THE INTERNATIONAL OFFICE OF MILITARY MEDICINE DOCUMENTATION, October 19, 1953: AAS 45 (1953), pp. 744-754; ADDRESS TO THOSE TAKING PART IN THE IXth CONGRESS OF THE ITALIAN ANAESTHESIOLOGICAL SOCIETY, February 24, 1957: AAS 49 (1957), p. 146; cf. also ADDRESS ON "REANIMATION," November 24, 1957: AAS 49 (1957), pp. 1027-1033; Paul VI, ADDRESS TO THE MEMBERS OF THE UNITED NATIONAL SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON APARTHEID, May 22, 1974: AAS 66 (1974), p. 346; John Paul II: ADDRESS TO THE BISHOPS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, October 5, 1979: AAS 71 (1979), p. 1225.
3 One thinks especially of Recommendation 779 (1976) on the rights of the sick and dying, of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at its XXVIIth Ordinary Session; cf. Sipeca, no. 1, March 1977, pp. 14-15.
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