The Vatican on Tuesday reiterated the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia, which it called “intrinsically evil” acts, “in every situation or circumstance.”
The Vatican’s condemnation did not break new ground but came as legislation in favor of allowing the ending of lives to relieve suffering has been in discussion or adopted by a growing number of governments around the world, including in traditionally Catholic countries.
“Euthanasia is a crime,” stated the document — titled “Samaritanus bonus” (the Good Samaritan): “On the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life” — and written by the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with Pope Francis’ explicit endorsement. The document accuses lawmakers who approve legislation allowing euthanasia or assisted suicide of being “accomplices of a grave sin that others will execute.”
The new document cited past writings by the church on end-of-life issues. But it also takes into account the fresh challenges of contemporary society posed by what Francis has called a “throwaway culture” seeking easy solutions to alleviate suffering instead of supporting families and health care workers caring for people with terminally illnesses.
“Incurable cannot mean that care” has come to an end, states the letter, which calls for a “wider notion of care” for terminally ill people. Citing Pope John Paul II, the letter urges health workers “to cure if possible, always to care,” until the very end of life.
The document also offers specific instructions to Catholic hospitals, calling on them to “abstain from plainly immoral conduct,” including referrals to other hospitals for patients requesting euthanasia.
In Europe, euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg and is being debated in Spain and Portugal. Switzerland allows physician-assisted suicide in some cases, and Italy and France allow terminally ill patients to stop treatment in some cases.
In Italy, the country’s top court ruled last year that assisted suicide should not be considered illegal in some circumstances. New Zealand is expected to hold a referendum on the issue next month.
Though issued on Tuesday, the Vatican letter was approved by the pope in June, and published internally on July 14, the feast day of St. Camillus de Lellis, the patron saint of the sick, hospitals, nurses and physicians.