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Clarification of Article published in Mumbai Mirror

June 25, 2015

An article has appeared in today's Mumbai Mirror (Thursday, June 25, 2015) with the following headline 'Right-to die could be an option: Catholic hospitals'. Please note that this headline does not reflect the teaching of the Catholic Church. Fr. Stephen Fernandes, who has been quoted in the article, has issued a clarification of what was actually communicated to the reporter.  His letter is reproduced here.  Please share this as widely as possible.


Dear Jyoti,

Greetings!!! This is w.r.t. the article today, 25 June on “Right-to-die could be an option”. I would like to make certain clarifications with regard to the article.  

The title “Right-to-die could be an option” is misleading and is contrary to Catholic teaching  which always and rightly insists on choosing life and the absolute sacredness and inviolability of human life. There is a right to life and to live life fully according to God’s plan. But there is no right to die. The Church’s teaching clearly states that “no one can make an attempt on the life of an innocent person without opposing God’s love for that person, without violating a fundamental right, and therefore without committing a crime of the utmost gravity… Intentionally causing one’s own death is therefore equally as wrong as murder” (Church document on The Declaration of Euthanasia by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

Actually, I never spoke about the right to die. These words shake the very foundation of Catholic theology and gives a totally wrong and false message to the readers. Church teaching insists on the right to protect life from the first moment of conception to natural death. The Church clearly teaches that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral (St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, no. 57). The sanctity of human life is one of the most sacred teachings of the Church. Further, the words “right to die”  is associated  with the Right to Die societies which propagate a culture of death in society, to which the Catholic Church is totally against. This culture of death has unfortunately infiltrated into many nursing homes, palliative care centres and hospitals.

There is never an option to choose death in Church teaching. There is a big difference between choosing death and allowing natural death when all appropriate means have been resorted to. It is the mission of the Catholic Church to provide care until the natural end of life of a patient. The right to die philosophy has harmful effects and implications for the patients, the medical profession and the whole of society. The Church’s Encyclical Evangelium Vitae vehemently states “The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life s always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end… Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action” (Evangelium Vitae, no. 57).

 In short, "Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God' and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human being" (Evangelium Vitae, no. 53).

Further, in the article you wrote about discussions being held on the validity of passive euthanasia. The Catholic Church is totally opposed to all forms of euthanasia, active as well as passive. In fact in your own article written in Mumbai Mirror on 22 October 2014 you rightly quoted the Church saying that euthanasia is against the gift of life given by God. Hence, the Church and its institutions such as hospitals and care centres will always discuss how to safeguard and protect human life at all stages and it will never discuss the validity of active or passive euthanasia. The Church’s Declaration on Euthanasia (prepared by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) totally opposes all forms of euthanasia. Also, in Chapter IV the document notes “some people speak of a "right to die," which is an expression that does not mean the right to procure death either by one's own hand or by means of someone else, as one pleases, but rather the right to die peacefully with human and Christian dignity”.

Hence, when you quoted me saying "The church says that we must fight for life, but only to the extent that it is possible” it does not give a clear and correct teaching of the Church and thus, is in need of clarification. In answering the question on whether it is necessary in all circumstances to have recourse to all possible remedies,  the Church gives four clarifications and one of them clearly states that: “When inevitable death is imminent in spite of the means used, it is permitted in conscience to take the decision to refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted. In such circumstances the doctor has no reason to reproach himself with failing to help the person in danger” (The Church’s Declaration on Euthanasia, Chapter 4). It is this difficult dilemma that our hospital and medical professionals face when they are faced with the challenge of advising patients and their families with regard to the forms of medical treatment which only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life when inevitable death is imminent (so long as normal care is not interrupted). Hence, Evangelium Vitae affirms that when medical procedures no longer correspond to the real situation of the patient, either because they are disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an excessive burden on the patient and his family, … to forgo extraordinary or disproportionate means is not the equivalent of suicide or euthanasia ; it rather expresses acceptance of the human condition in the face of death (Evangelium Vitae, no. 65)”.

I will be very grateful to you if in your next article on this issue, you take note of these clarifications.

Yours sincerely,
Fr. Stephen

 P.S. It was unfortunate that you did not show me the text as you promised me before sending it to the press. It has caused confusion among readers with regard to teaching of the Church

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