Questions about pastoral implications of assisted suicide continue

Questions about the pastoral implications of assisted suicide continue to arise as Canada gets ready to legalize it in June while in the United States several states are poised to discuss the issue later this year.

Catholic health and ethics experts, however, said there is no definite answer as to its implication on pastoral care. Will a priest anoint a patient who is about to undergo assisted suicide? How about a Catholic funeral for those who the procedure?

“You really can’t give an answer,” said Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity nun who became president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association in 2005.

She told the Catholic News Service that if someone confessed about the individual situation, his or her culpability “remains between the person and God.”

“I don’t think we ought to ever decide what should happen in the internal forum between the mercy of God and a priest working with someone,” said Keehan.

Marie T. Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, said the question is not a matter of ethics but of “the governance of the church in terms of access to sacraments.”

She said the denial of absolution is not the call of any one ethicist, “but the judgment of the confessor at the time, considering the intention of the penitent to reform.”

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, said in a pastoral letter that “the intentional, willful act of killing oneself or another human being is clearly morally wrong.”

“To formally cooperate in the killing of the disabled, frail, sick or suffering, even if motivated by a misplaced compassion, requires a prior judgment that such lives do not have value and are not worth living,” said the archbishop.

He said those who participate in assisted suicide do not have “the proper disposition for the anointing of the sick.”

The Code of Canon Law says anointing of the sick “is not to be conferred upon those who persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin.” But the 1983 code now in effect dropped a norm from the 1917 code that had denied a Catholic funeral to those “who killed themselves by deliberate counsel.”

In a survey done in Canada, majority of Canadians believes psychological suffering on its own should never be grounds for granting a doctor-assisted death.

Majority, however, supports lethal prescriptions for terminally ill children and youth.


Catholic News Service/Crux
National Post
CBC News
Image: Catholic News Service/Crux

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