VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — The president of the regularly scandalous Pontifical Academy for Life has spoken in favor of assisted suicide as possibly being the “greatest common good concretely possible,” contrary to the Catholic Church’s teaching strenuously condemning the practice.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia’s remarks were made during a recent television panel as part of the Perugia journalism festival, for a debate on the end of life entitled “The last trip (towards the end of life).”
While he expressed his personal opposition to practicing assisted suicide, Paglia defended it in principle, citing Pope Francis’ assault on Catholic Tradition in doing so. “Personally, I would not practice suicide assistance,” he said “but I understand that legal mediation may be the greatest common good concretely possible under the conditions we find ourselves in.”
Catholic Church is not a ‘dispenser of truth pills’
From the very outset of his presentation, Paglia undermined the authority of the Catholic Church to pronounce of matters of truth and morals, stating: “First of all, I would like to clarify that the Catholic Church is not that it has a ready-made, prepackaged package of truths, as if it were a dispenser of truth pills.”
“Theological thought evolves in history,” he said, “in dialogue with the Magisterium and the experience of the people of God (sensus fidei fidelium), in a dynamic of mutual enrichment.”
The Christian “contribution” to public debates, said Paglia, is “made within the different cultures, neither above – as if they possessed an a priori given truth – nor below, as if believers were the bearers of a respectable opinion, but disengaged from history, ‘dogmatic’ indeed, therefore unacceptable.”
“Between believers and non-believers there is a relationship of mutual learning,” he added.
Paglia cited Pope Francis’ well documented attack on the Catholic Church’s teaching on the death penalty as an example of apparent change in the Church’s practice:
Think, for example, of what happened on the issue of the death penalty: because of the change in cultural and social conditions, because of the maturation of reflection on rights, the Pope modified the catechism. Whereas before we did not exclude that there were circumstances for which it could be legitimized, today we no longer consider it permissible, under any circumstances.
This rationale, said Paglia, should be used when looking at the issue of euthanasia:
As believers, therefore, we ask the same questions that affect everyone, knowing that we are in a pluralistic democratic society. In this case, about the end of (earthly) life, we find ourselves as everyone before a common question: how is it possible to reach (together) the best way to articulate the good (ethical plane) and the just (legal plane), for each person and for society?
‘Accompaniment’ could require assisted suicide
Highlighting “human freedom” in decision making as being “always relative (to others),” Paglia stated that “regarding decisions about dying, this does not mean returning to the old medical paternalism, but rather emphasizing an interpretation of relational and responsible autonomy.”
He warned that countries which have allowed assisted suicide demonstrate how the “pool of people” legally allowed to kill themselves “tends to expand.” “Cases of involuntary euthanasia and deep palliative sedation without consent have thus grown,” said Paglia.
However, despite acknowledging the documented results of euthanasia laws, Paglia defended the permissibility of such laws, by appealing to Pope Francis’ theme of “accompaniment.”
In the time when death is approaching I believe that the main response is that of accompaniment. And the first step to accompaniment is to listen to the questions, often very uncomfortable, that arise at this most delicate stage.
The question of assisted suicide “is a question with many implications, in which several factors play regarding guilt, shame, pain, control, helplessness,” said the Vatican archbishop. “The interplay of projections between the sick person and the caregiver is very intricate: distinguishing between ‘he suffers too much’ and ‘I suffer too much to see him like this’ is not at all easy, just as it is very demanding to take seriously the demand for a relationship that helps to live with the radical loneliness of dying.”
As a result of this “accompaniment,” Paglia stated that legal euthanasia could be an option, in order to support people in the “limitation, separation and passage of death.”
In this context, it is not to be ruled out that in our society a legal mediation is feasible that would allow assistance to suicide under the conditions specified by Constitutional Court Sentence 242/2019: the person must be ‘kept alive by life-support treatments and affected by an irreversible pathology, source of physical or psychological suffering that she considers intolerable, but fully capable of making free and conscious decisions.’ The bill passed by the House of Representatives (but not the Senate) basically went along these lines.
Personally, I would not practice suicide assistance, but I understand that legal mediation may be the greatest common good concretely possible under the conditions we find ourselves in.
Catholic teaching on assisted suicide
Despite Paglia’s promotion of assisted suicide, the Catholic Church has consistently and firmly condemned the practice. Condemnations have been made in recent decades by the Second Vatican Council, Pius XII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. In Evangelium Vitae John Paul II warned against using “freedom” to defend euthanasia.
“To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others,” he wrote.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1980 “Declaration on Euthanasia” stated clearly that “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.”
This was re-iterated by the CDF in 2020, with Samaritanus bonus calling euthanasia “a crime against human life because, in this act, one chooses directly to cause the death of another innocent human being.”
The CDF preemptively rejected Paglia’s arguments defining assisted suicide based on circumstances and accompaniment, stating:
The moral evaluation of euthanasia, and its consequences does not depend on a balance of principles that the situation and the pain of the patient could, according to some, justify the termination of the sick person… Euthanasia, therefore, is an intrinsically evil act, in every situation or circumstance.