In this the third millennium, our society is blessed by advances in science and technology. This is especially true in the area of medicine and health care. Medical science presents a vast array of treatments and procedures that offer both cure and care to those who suffer from illness and infirmity. At the same time, these medical procedures present individuals and their families with agonizing questions regarding the use of this technology to sustain human life. In a culture and society where an estimated 75–80% of us will die in some kind of institutional setting, we are all likely to face difficult decisions regarding treatment and care at the end of life.


Some people, including a number of Catholics, respond to these options by expressing support for euthanasia or assisted suicide as a “merciful” way to deal with the reality of death. Contrary to Church teaching they argue that individuals have a “right to die” or at least a right to choose how and when death will come. The alternative, they suggest, is to watch as our loved ones face a painful or agonizing death prolonged by medical therapy. Pope John Paul II, in his Christmas message of 2000, described this situation most accurately in stating, “The temptation is becoming ever stronger to take possession of death by anticipating its arrival, as though we were masters of our own lives or the lives of others.”


Efforts in our culture to control or master death reflect a false understanding of the gift of life and personal freedom by exalting “personal freedom as an absolute value so that authentic freedom is equated with mere permission to do what one wishes.”1 Pope Benedict XVI noted that “The freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery.”2 This view of personal freedom and individual rights leads to a devaluing of life itself. The Church teaches that life is given to us by God and that we are its steward not its master. Hence we are accountable for how we accept and nurture the gift of life.


From: Now and at the Hour of our Death. A Pastoral Letter from the Roman Catholic Bishops of Wisconsin on End of Life Decisions. May 2013