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Our readers asked:

Why Can’t I Decide How I Will Die?

Charles C. Camosy, PhD Answers:

Q: Why can’t I decide how I will die? Why doesn’t the church allow for physician-assisted suicide if the person doesn’t want to suffer?

One of the fundamental truths of Christianity is that our lives don’t belong to us. They belong to God and to the good of our most vulnerable neighbors. Just as our lives are not ours to do with as we wish, the same holds true for our deaths. The Church claims that God has created each of our lives with such worth that we can never directly act against their good. We are never to aim at the death of an innocent person–even if that person is us.

This is perfectly consistent with aiming at something else (pain control, avoiding over treatment, etc) where one foresees but does not intend that death will be the likely result. For instance, one can stop chemotherapy or take heavy painkillers–even if one can foresee that death will come faster–as long as one is not trying to make death come faster. The Church is very concerned with stopping the suffering of the sick and dying, and they run all kinds of hospitals and hospice centers with this concern in mind. But they insist on killing the pain, not the patient.

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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