Why do Catholics reject suicide in all its forms? Bishop Frederick Henry explains, in light of Canada’s increasing embrace of assisted suicide:
For Catholics, in order to receive the sacraments, one must have the proper disposition. The deepest meaning of receiving sacraments is that man entrusts himself to God’s loving mercy. Consciously and freely choosing euthanasia or assisted suicide implies that one is not entrusting oneself to God’s mercy, but is rather controlling the conclusion of one’s own life. Such a position is incompatible with the surrender to God’s loving mercy and it denies, so to speak, the strength that is inherent in the sacraments. Through the sacraments one participates in the suffering, the death and the Resurrection of Jesus and in the unconditional “yes” He spoke to His Father.
From this perspective, it is impossible to comply with a request for the sacraments when someone has planned to end his life or to have it ended actively. Such a person does not have the proper disposition.
Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are not a “solution” to suffering, but an elimination of the suffering human being. It is therefore the confirmation of despair, of the overwhelming feeling that all suffering can only end when the human person himself ceases to be. If the pastoral caregiver were to support the request for euthanasia, he would be capitulating to despair, which is contrary to the hope alive within him which he wants to proclaim. If the Church’s minister were out of a false of compassion accede to such a request it would constitute an enormous situation of scandal and denial of the truth, “You shall not kill.”
In a Letter to the Elderly in 1999, St. John Paul II shared his faith in these words: “It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the kingdom of God. At the same time, I find great peace in thinking of the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life… And so I often find myself saying, with no trace of melancholy, a prayer recited by priests after the celebration of the Eucharist: At the hour of my death, call me and bid me come to you. This is the prayer of Christian hope.”
There is no possibility of Christian suicide. The idea, the phrase, the practice of it is so alien and incompatible with the faith and the way of life of its people that is just does not translate. The challenge of our own time is a therapeutic suicide, a physician-assisted suicide, a family-affirming suicide, etc. In other words, we’re keeping our sentimental opposition toward what I’ll call unplanned suicide, but endorsing planned suicide in a variety of more sanitized forms.
Despite the clarity of Christian teaching, this will be a debate within the Church as much as it is (or more) in the culture. Faith and culture are like waves that wash over each other. One can’t help but influence the other. Among Christians this could be an ugly debate, because the Church is called to be something more than an authority whose job is to bless human will, itself malleable and changing. Stating this in a way that’s not alienating can be a huge challenge, especially for those in the midst of active suffering like my grandfather was in the final years of Alzheimer’s. He lived and ultimately suffered and died well, despite it.
One small, personal thing: if my grandfather was the sort to commit suicide, I would never have known him. I was roughly 8 years old when he was diagnosed, but I have many memories of him and of our happy times together as a family. Even in sickness, he taught me. To those who would think to have robbed us of that time together, I call anathema.