Samaritanus bonus defends the value of life and dignity for the chronically and terminally ill, urging true care and accompaniment

Healing Hands

Amid a global increase in physician-assisted suicide legislation and the proliferation of euthanistic practices in so-called end-of-life-care protocols, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Samaritanus bonus offers clear moral teaching on the dignity and value of life at all stages until natural death, the intrinsic immorality of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and calls for authentic, integral care and spiritual accompaniment.

Ordered for publication by Pope Francis, Samaritanus bonus reaffirms Catholic moral teaching that  death cannot be directly sought nor intended by actions or omissions during end-of-life care.

Samaritanus bonus attests to the central role of the family in the spiritual, as well as therapeutic care of the ill person, affirming that the request for death is in many cases itself a symptom of disease, aggravated by isolation and discomfort.” Additionally, with the presence of quality and unequivocal palliative care, patient requests for assisted suicide are greatly reduced.

The letter examines three common misconceptions that support euthanistic conclusions. First, the reduction of the value of life to quality of lifefactors that make life worth living.Second, a misguided compassion that aims to reduce suffering by bringing death. And third, an individualistic Pelagianism that denies dependence on God and others, or a Gnosticism that sees suffering as a thing to be escaped by the hastening of death. On the contrary, the letter affirms that at all stages life is always a good[1] [2] [3] .”

In the case of a challenging or grim prognosis for pediatric and prenatal patients, Samaritanus bonus affirms the equal and intrinsic value of the suffering child and the duty to provide equal and proportionate care to that offered to adult patients, with a special emphasis on including the parents and family of the child in their care during this journey of love.” A prenatal diagnosis must be sought with a commitment to the good, value, and dignity of the child in mind and not with an unlawful eugenic mentality. From conception, these are little patients whom medicine today can always assist,” and who deserve empathy, accompaniment, and integral care before and after birth.

In the face of the legalization of euthanasia, Samaritanus bonus affirms the right of healthcare workers to conscientious objection. Formal and immediate material cooperation in the evil of euthanasia and assisted suicide must be excluded. As there is no right to die,” no healthcare worker may be compelled to cooperate in euthanistic acts, and governments must acknowledge this right. It calls on episcopal conferences, local churches, Christian communities, and institutions to adopt a clear and unified position to safeguard the right of conscientious objection in regulatory contexts,” and therefore to provide support to those who object.

The letter affirms the indispensable importance of the religious dimension in the integral care of the ill, through the presence of chaplains, the sacraments, and the prayers of the family. Because of the prevalence of euthanistic practices, giving rise to the greater frequency of patients' expressed intention to be euthanized, it reiterates sacramental guidelines as to what must be present for the sacraments to be administered in such cases.

Chaplains, family, and caregivers must not abandon the patient who has a desire to be euthanized, as their accompaniment and presence may open up the patient to their own value, their humanity, and to the gift of hope. However, chaplains must also avoid offering scandal by remaining up until or during the process of euthanizing the patient who persists in this desire.

Samaritanus bonus additionally clarifies the proper use of analgesic therapy (never to be used to hasten death), the obligation to provide ordinary means of care (and when they can be withdrawn such as when nutrition can no longer be absorbed), the importance of moral and spiritual formation and education of healthcare workers, and calls for models of aid in support of those who work with the terminally ill. It calls all to live in hope and charitable accompaniment, as caring for the suffering brings with it the rewards of eternity (Matthew 25:36).

Read the complete document:

Learn more about the Churchs end-of-life teaching, including decision aids for difficult medical decisions, sample Advanced Directives, resources for caregivers and much more at Caring for the Whole Person - - a joint initiative of the California Catholic Conference and the Alliance of Catholic Health Care member systems.

Printer Friendly, PDF & Email