Winona-Rochester Bishop Robert Barron is urging Catholics to oppose an effort to make assisted suicide legal in Minnesota — one of an increasing number of states seeking to legalize the practice, which goes against the Catholic Church’s teaching on the sanctity of all human life. 

Minnesota is considering a bill (SF 1813/HF 1930) to legalize the practice of assisted suicide. In an article on the website of Word on Fire, Barron — who founded that ministry in 2000 and who previously ministered as an auxiliary bishop in California — noted that Minnesota is his home state. The bishop said the proposed law caused him to reflect on a billboard he saw in California when that state was considering legalizing assisted suicide in the mid-2010s: “My life, my death, my choice.”

The bishop wrote the billboard caused him to think of St. Paul’s exhortation to the Romans in which the saint writes: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

“Did the billboard get it right, or did St. Paul? Does my life belong to me, or is it a gift from God? Is my death a matter of my personal choice, or is it under God’s providence and at his disposal?” Barron asked. 

Barron wrote that the premium placed on bodily autonomy in modern society misses the point that the intentional taking of an innocent life is always wrong, no matter what the perceived benefits may be. 

Instead of assisted suicide or euthanasia, the Catholic Church has long supported palliative care, which means accompanying patients toward the end of their lives with methods such as pain management and not accelerating the process of death. 

“Some advocates of physician-assisted suicide will argue that autonomy over one’s body is of utmost importance for those who face the prospect of a dreadfully painful demise,” Barron wrote. “But this consideration is largely beside the point, for palliative care is so advanced that in practically all cases, pain can be successfully managed.”

“The deeper point is this: Even if a dying person found himself in great pain, actively killing himself would not be morally justifiable. The reason is that the direct killing of the innocent is, in the language of the Church, ‘intrinsically evil’ — which is to say, incapable of being morally sanctioned, no matter how extenuating the circumstances or how beneficial the consequences.”

“Though we place a huge premium on it in our culture, I don’t consider autonomy the supreme value. Authentic freedom is not radical self-determination; rather, it is ordered to certain goods that the mind has discerned,” he continued. 

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“If I speak obsessively of ‘choice’ but never even raise a question regarding the good or evil being chosen, I find myself in a moral and intellectual wasteland. True freedom is ordered toward moral value and ultimately to the supreme value who is God.”

The current version of Minnesota’s bill contains several “safeguards” designed to ensure that only autonomous adults with a terminal illness will be able to die by assisted suicide. Barron wrote that he is “skeptical” that such safeguards will remain in place, given the erosion of similar measures in recent years in several European countries and in Canada. 

“In many of those places, the elderly, those with dementia, those experiencing depression or severe anxiety can all be candidates for this form of ‘treatment.’ Though the advocates of medically assisted suicide will deny it until the cows come home, this law places the entire state directly on the slipperiest of slopes,” Barron said.

Minnesota is one of at least a dozen states currently considering a liberalization of its assisted suicide laws. As of last year, almost a quarter (21.6%) of the U.S. population lived in a state that has legalized physician-assisted suicide.

Barron in his article urged Catholics to speak out against the bill, which is being sponsored by 24 Democratic Minnesota lawmakers and is currently in committee. 

“[C]all your representative or senator, write to the governor, talk to your friends and neighbors, circulate a petition. And to those in other parts of the country, I would urge vigilance. If this legislation hasn’t come to your state yet, it probably will soon enough. If you stand for the culture of life, fight it!” Barron concluded. 

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are not the same, although the two terms are often used interchangeably. Assisted suicide is the act of making the means of suicide — such as a lethal dose of medication — available to the patient, who subsequently acts on his or her own. 

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Euthanasia, in contrast, refers to the practice of a medical professional or other person directly acting to end the life of a patient, a practice that remains illegal across the entire U.S.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder” and “gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and the respect due to the living God, his Creator” (No. 2324). This teaching was reaffirmed in the 2020 Vatican document Samaritanus Bonus. Pope Francis has spoken frequently against euthanasia and assisted suicide and in favor of palliative care. 

Catholic teaching states that patients and doctors are not required to do everything possible to avoid death, but if a life has reached its natural conclusion and medical intervention would not be beneficial, the decision to “forego extraordinary or disproportionate means” to keep a dying person alive is not euthanasia, as St. John Paul II noted in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae.