The document’s introduction noted that “it is widely recognized that a moral and practical clarification regarding care of these persons is needed.”
Pastoral accompaniment of those who expressly request euthanasia or assisted suicide “today presents a singular moment when a reaffirmation of the teaching of the Church is necessary,” Samaritanus bonus said.
It explained that closeness to a person who has chosen euthanasia or assisted suicide is necessary, but must always be ordered toward the person’s conversion.
The document recalled that a person who has made this decision, “whatever their subjective dispositions may be, has decided upon a gravely immoral act and willingly persists in this decision.”
This state “involves a manifest absence of the proper disposition for the reception of the Sacraments of Penance, with absolution, and Anointing, with Viaticum.” In this situation, the congregation explained, the priest must withhold absolution.
“Here it remains possible to accompany the person whose hope may be revived and whose erroneous decision may be modified, thus opening the way to admission to the sacraments,” it continued.
It added that “to delay absolution is a medicinal act of the Church, intended not to condemn, but to lead the sinner to conversion.”
The Church’s position in this situation “does not imply non-acceptance of the sick person,” the letter emphasized. Withholding absolution “must be accompanied by a willingness to listen and to help, together with a deeper explanation of the nature of the sacrament, in order to provide the opportunity to desire and choose the sacrament up to the last moment.”
“The Church is careful to look deeply for adequate signs of conversion, so that the faithful can reasonably ask for the reception of the sacraments,” it said.
The purpose of the new letter, the CDF explained in the introduction, is to enlighten pastors and the Catholic faithful “regarding their questions and uncertainties about medical care, and their spiritual and pastoral obligations to the sick in the critical and terminal stages of life.”
It said that there were particular situations today which require “a more clear and precise intervention on the part of the Church,” to reaffirm the message of the Gospel and its expression in the basic doctrinal teachings of the Magisterium, especially for the sick and dying and those who come into contact with them.
Euthanasia, the CDF letter affirmed, is “an intrinsically evil act, in every situation or circumstance” and “any formal or immediate material cooperation in such an act is a grave sin against human life.”
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“Euthanasia and assisted suicide are always the wrong choice,” it said, because, as St. Pope John Paul II wrote in Evangelium vitae, “euthanasia is a grave violation of the Law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.”
There is also “no right to dispose of one’s life arbitrarily,” it continued, which is why “no health care worker can be compelled to execute a non-existent right.”
It is also “gravely unjust to enact laws that legalize euthanasia or justify and support suicide,” the congregation stated, and “such laws strike at the foundation of the legal order: the right to life sustains all other rights, including the exercise of freedom.”
“The existence of such laws deeply wound human relations and justice, and threaten the mutual trust among human beings,” the document continued. “The legitimation of assisted suicide and euthanasia is a sign of the degradation of legal systems.”
The CDF explained that according to Church teaching, 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.”
It said: “Those who approve laws of euthanasia and assisted suicide, therefore, become accomplices of a grave sin that others will execute. They are also guilty of scandal because by such laws they contribute to the distortion of conscience, even among the faithful.”