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Our readers asked:

Do all people who commit suicide end up in Hell? If they are a good person in life are they only judged on their last desperate act?

Charles C. Camosy, PhD Answers:

The Church of our day refuses to claim that someone is in Hell — even if their last act was to kill themselves. Yes, it is always intrinsically evil to aim at the death of an innocent person, and this includes one’s self. But especially in this context, “intrinsically” does not mean “very.” Determining the level of guilt in another person (aside from being something only God can do) is always different from determining whether what they did was morally wrong. Suicide is almost always driven by powerful forces which are beyond the control of the person — especially when it involves mental illness. It is always wrong in the abstract, but the person who does it is often not blameworthy.

This question also invites us to think about how God will judge our lives when it comes to deciding our ultimate destiny. Since the Church considers God to be outside of human time, it is an open question whether we can — at any one time — do something to fundamentally alter our destiny away from union with God in heaven. Because the Church does not speak in clear or absolute terms on these matters, I can only give my personal opinion: I suspect that God sees and evaluates our lives as a whole rather than judging on the basis of one act — especially when that one act is coerced by all kinds of forces beyond one’s control.

The Author : Charles C. Camosy, PhD
Charlie Camosy is assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University where he has been since finishing his Ph.D. in theology at Notre Dame in 2008. His book Too Expensive to Treat? Finitude, Tragedy, and the Neonatal ICU (Eerdmans, 2010) was honored at the 2011 Catholic Media Association awards. Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization was released with Cambridge University Press in May of 2012. Charlie is also the founder and co-director of the Catholic Conversation Project and a member of the ethics committee at the Children's Hospital of New York.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Dani Sell

    I agree with you Elaine, but I would posit it this way: Suicide is a desperate act of a neuro-bio-chemically tortured brain.

  • Dani Sell

    To judge them is heartless and misguided.

  • Dani Sell

    Yes, not only is mental illness the culprit for such a dispiriting outlook on life, but scientists have now isolated a gene that corresponds to suicidal tendencies. One cannot be held responsible for one’s bio chemistry. And sadly, psychotropic medications are not a cure all. I know. I’m a mental health social worker haunted by the pain my clients go through.

  • Elaine Atkinson

    The ones I know who ended their own lives felt they already were in Hell. It is a desperate act of a tortured soul.

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