We all seek a compassionate response to suffering. There is
however a great deal of misunderstanding about true compassion, what
euthanasia is and equally, what it is not. Here we provide information on these
with the intention of relieving pain is not euthanasia.
pain is the intention of a medical professional, it is not only ethical, but
best practice in medical care and consistent with Catholic teaching. Even if
such pain relief could be foreseen to shorten the person’s life, (which, given
the improvements in palliative care in recent years, is unlikely) the intention
to ease suffering is noble and justified. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2279
While some may argue that intentions don’t matter, if the
end result is the same, we disagree. We regularly ask our legal system to make
such judgements in distinguishing between murder, manslaughter or accidental
death. Intentions do matter and society recognises them as important.
Refusal or withdrawal
of overly burdensome treatment is not euthanasia.
At some stage in the
course of a life-limiting illness, a point may come where there needs to be a
shift in emphasis from seeking a cure to providing comfort. While Catholics
cherish life, we do not preserve it “at any cost”. In discussion with their
doctors, family, and other loved ones, a person may choose not to undergo or
continue treatment that they consider to be overly burdensome. Wherever
possible, those decisions should be made by the person themselves but if they
cannot, by a family member of another suitable advocate. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2278
Best practice in palliative care seeks to make the
transition from curative treatments to those focused on comfort and care, as
smooth as possible for patients and their families.
For more information addressing some of the common
misunderstandings about assisted suicide and euthanasia, read this brief publication
from the Australian Catholic Bishops.