Hope & Dignity: A Catholic response to Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

As Catholics, we uphold the dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death. We believe that every single life matters. We are committed to protecting everyone, especially the most vulnerable. We offer hope, mercy and love to those who suffer – not abandonment and death. The Catholic Church, drawing on the deepest sources of its tradition, remains strongly opposed to any form of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Hope & Dignity: A Catholic Response to Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide is a pastoral initiative to equip Catholics to be effective witnesses in their families, parishes and communities. In contrast to the pro-MAiD messages we hear from the secular media, government and even our highest court, the Catholic Church offers real hope and true dignity to those who are suffering and dying.

What can I do?

Archbishop Smith calls us to pray, learn, and act to counter the siren call of MAiD in our society, and by our Christian witness to inspire the world with reason for hope.




  • Be a witness for hope and dignity by living the Corporal Works of Mercy – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.
  • Talk with your family members. Make sure they understand that you want their help and empathy when you are suffering – not a lethal injection. Make sure they know you will be there to care and advocate for them in their time of suffering.
  • Make sure your beliefs are respected by including them in your Personal Directive.
  • Ask your physician(s) to protect your life, and the lives of those for whom they care.
  • Write to your MLA and MP to let them know these practices have no place in health care, and that health care professionals must not be forced to participate in them.
  • Become a member of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (secular organization) and join its email list to get regular news and information.

The Voice of our Shepherds

Answers to Your Questions: Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

In 2015, Archbishop Smith participated in a series of listening sessions and heard questions and concerns from hundreds of people. Here we present key questions and answers from those sessions, along with other emerging questions.

Answers to Your Questions: Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

The Catholic Tradition holds the following beliefs:
  • All persons are created in the image and likeness of God: therefore, we are called to respect every person and to respect the sanctity of each human life from conception to natural death. “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever 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 under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2258)
  • We are always called to provide care, compassion and comfort to those who are suffering and/or dying.
  • Euthanasia “is understood to be any action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering.” (Pope St. John Paul ii, Evangelium Vitae [The Gospel of Life], 1995, n. 65)
  • The Catholic Church opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide (which in Canada is referred to as “Medical Assistance in Dying”) in all of its regrettable forms. The Church teaches that “whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2277)
  • Both euthanasia and assisted suicide, while opposed by the Church, are regrettably legal in Canada.
    • Euthanasia is “the administering by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner of a substance to a person, at their request, that causes their death.”
    • Assisted suicide is “the prescribing or providing by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner of a substance to a person, at their request, so that they may self-administer the substance and in doing so cause their own death.”
  • “Treatment decisions, therefore, for a person receiving care are never to include actions or omissions that intentionally cause death.” (Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, Health Ethics Guide [2012], #87)
  • “Intentionally causing one’s own death (suicide), or directly assisting another in such an action (assisted suicide), is morally wrong.” (Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, Health Ethics Guide [2012], #88)
  • Even in situations where the state legally endorses assisted suicide and/or euthanasia, as does Canada in legislation known as “Medical Assistance in Dying” (MAiD), Catholics are not to take part in this, either individually or with or for another person.
  • Pope Francis has reaffirmed Catholic teaching that euthanasia “is always wrong, in that the intent of euthanasia is to end life and cause death.” (Pope Francis, Message to the Participants in the European Regional Meeting of the World Medical Association, November 7, 2017)
  • Nonetheless, Pope Francis reiterated Catholic teaching as articulated by Pope Pius xii in 1957, affirming that “there is no obligation to have recourse in all circumstances to every possible remedy” to keep a person alive. “In some specific cases,” the Pope said, “it is permissible to refrain from their use.” (Pope Francis, Message to the Participants in the European Regional Meeting of the World Medical Association, November 7, 2017)
  • The Catechism provides further clarity on this matter by noting: “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over-zealous’ treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2278)
Affirm and accompany the person with Christian love and truth. When someone I love and care for requests euthanasia or assisted suicide (maid), I should be conscious that this request can be a cry for help. The first thing I should do is remind the person of how much I love them and also how much God loves them. In affirming that they are loved by God and by others, I should also reassure them that they will be accompanied during this difficult and trying time of their life. They are not alone on this journey.

Examine and Explore

Here are some examples of how to engage, in an open manner, someone who might be contemplating a request for euthanasia or assisted suicide. It is important to enter into this conversation as a dialogue. You are certainly not affirming the person’s desire for euthanasia or assisted suicide, but trying to understand the reason for the request.
  • What I am hearing you say is that you cannot continue living like this in the way you are living now. Would you like to talk more about this? It must be a heavy burden to carry alone.
  • I remember seeing other people who have experienced similar health challenges. They mentioned having difficulty with the following issues. Is that true for how you are feeling?
When exploring these sensitive issues with your loved one, you may hear the following responses:
  • I am so afraid of being a burden on my family. I looked after them all of their lives and I don’t want them to have to look after me now. They can’t afford to take time off work—they have their own family to look after now.
  • My pain is controlled right now, but I don’t want to die in agony or become even more incapacitated than I am now.
  • I have no dignity left—I can’t walk, eat, stand, go to the toilet without help, etc. I am tired of living.
  • It’s my life and I have the right to make decisions about how I live and when I will die.
  • No one has the right to deny me my legal right to MAiD.
  • If I don’t make this decision now when I am capable, I may miss the opportunity to make the decision if I become incapable. I will be living “like a vegetable.” I don’t want this.
  • It’s time to go. I have had a good life. I am looking forward to seeing God and reuniting with my friends and family who have gone before me.
  • I have nothing left to look forward to. My friends are dead. I haven’t seen my family in years. I am alone in the world. What’s the point in carrying on?
  • There is no hope—not even in God.

Possible Responses

  • If the person is experiencing physical pain, let them know that you will support them by seeking the advice and the help of their medical advisors find the best way to alleviate their physical pain, be it through medication or other treatments.
  • The majority of people who request euthanasia or assisted suicide do so not because of physical pain but because of suffering due to anxiety and worry about their situation. It is essential to find out the particular cause of the person’s suffering. For example, they may feel that they are a burden to others or perceive that their quality of life has diminished. Or they may feel they are losing the ability to make decisions and control their life (their autonomy). These feelings can affect their mental health. This type of suffering can be much more difficult to deal with than physical pain. Just as physical pain can be addressed by medical professionals, mental health professionals can be of great assistance in helping to determine the cause of a person’s suffering and in finding the appropriate treatment to ease their suffering.
  • If a person feels they are a burden to others, you need to let them know that they are not a burden; their life matters to you and to others. This can be a time to address a person’s spiritual well-being. You could call upon a priest or chaplain to speak with the person.
  • Even a person who is experiencing great suffering should be told that their life is of inestimable value because it has been given to them as a gift from God. We can take the opportunity to remind them that in the light of our Catholic faith, suffering can be transformed and redeemed when it is seen as a participation in Jesus’ saving death and resurrection.
How is the Church to respond to people who have requested euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide? May the Church walk with them on that journey, as it is called to do in every other situation? What about reception of the sacraments and funerals for those who follow their own path on this issue, and not that of the Church? If you are facing these difficult situations or have questions on these matters, speak with your parish priest or bishop for guidance. For further reading, you may wish to consult the September 2020 letter entitled Samaritanus bonus: On the Care of Persons in the Critical and Terminal Phases of Life, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 14 July 2020.
Suffering, either our own or that of a loved one, does not justify an act that is morally wrong. Suffering is a reality that we as Christians approach in the light of that endured by Jesus. From our Lord we learn that we are never alone in our suffering. His special love for the sick and his acts of healing call us, too, to be close to any who suffer and strive to lessen their pain whenever possible. In Jesus Christ, we find that suffering in no way diminishes human dignity. Suffering does not eclipse our capacity to love and be loved, to forgive and be forgiven, to serve and to be served. In fact, to choose MAiD only passes our own suffering on to those we claim to love. If you were to meet a stranger who was about to jump off of a bridge, would you give him a final push to end his suffering, or would you offer him your own hand to help him off of that ledge?
The same argument could be used to justify all suicides. That should be our first clue that it’s wrong. Asking someone else to assist you in dying implicates another person, a physician or nurse who is supposed to care for you. That we are stewards of our lives does not mean that we have complete autonomy to dispose of them. MAiD does not give you more control over your suffering or your death, because it will ultimately be a government bureaucracy that will decide whether you live or die.
  • As Catholics, we recognize that we have been given the gift of life. Therefore, we are obliged to receive medical interventions that can help us.
  • However, “Persons are not obliged to seek or accept medical interventions/treatments that will not accomplish the goal for which they are intended or when the burdens (excessive pain, extreme suffering, expense or other serious inconvenience) resulting from the treatment are clearly disproportionate to the benefits hoped for or achievable.” (Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, Health Ethics Guide [2012], #77)
  • Pope St. John Paul II was clear on this point when he stated, “While life is always good it is not an absolute good.” (See Going to the House of My Father: A Statement on the Dignity and Destiny of Human Life, Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2007)
  • “In principle, there is an obligation to provide food and water to persons, including medically assisted nutrition for those who cannot take food orally. This obligation extends to patients in chronic and presumably irreversible conditions who can reasonably be expected to live indefinitely if given such care. Medically assisted nutrition and hydration become morally optional when they cannot reasonably be expected to prolong life or when they would be ‘excessively burdensome for the patient or [would] cause significant physical discomfort’.” When decisions regarding the provision of nutrition and hydration are needed, they should take into account the “needs, values and wishes of the person receiving care.” Withholding or withdrawing nutrition and hydration must never be to hasten death. (Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, Health Ethics Guide [2012], #84)
No. When we reach a point where continued intervention is deemed futile or disproportionate (the expected burdens of the treatment are greater than the expected benefits), withdrawing treatment simply allows nature to take its course. It is not choosing to cause or hasten death but choosing to not use futile or disproportionate means to prolong life. In Church teaching, this is morally acceptable. Such a decision should always be discussed carefully with your physician, pastor, and family. However, killing yourself, or having someone else kill you, is never morally acceptable.
Instead of offering death as a solution to pain and suffering, we believe that everyone should have access to the support and care that they need. This is especially true of those who suffer through the complications of age, disability and/or disease. The goal of true palliative care is to relieve physical, psychological, social, and spiritual suffering. It helps patients and their loved ones go through the end of life in a truly dignified way.
No. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that palliative care "intends to neither accelerate nor postpone death."
There are risks of coercion to use euthanasia and assisted suicide as a way to avoid the costs of treatment. As health care costs in Canada continue to increase, both in total dollars and as a proportion of all government spending, it is not hard to imagine that an economic case could be made to expand access to MAiD. Catholics should vigorously reject any attempt by government or health care providers to put a dollar cost on human life. Consider:
  • The average cost saving of administering MAID to a patient, versus traditional end-of-life care, is $13,500, according to a fiscal analysis of Canada’s MAiD system by the Parliamentary Budget Officer in October 2020 (extrapolated from data).
  • That report concluded that easing access to assisted suicide could save Canada’s health-care system up to $149 million a year, or less than 1% of annual health care expenditures. See: caedm.ca/2020/11/27/negligible-savings-from-assisted-suicide-parliamentary-report-says/
  • However, the PBO study was based on less than 8,000 annual MAiD deaths and assumed that MAiD deaths would continue to comprise just 2.2% of all deaths in Canada.
  • In 2021, MAID deaths accounted for 3.3% of all deaths and both the number and proportion continues to rise. For example, in 2022, the number of MAiD deaths in Alberta increased by more than 40% to 836 deaths up from 594 in 2021 (Source: albertahealthservices.ca/info/Page14930.aspx).
  • According to Statistics Canada, the number of MAiD deaths in Canada has continued to grow at an accelerating rate since it was introduced in 2016, increasing by 34.7% in 2021 over 2020 (7,446 vs 10,029) (Source: www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/230213/dq230213c-eng.htm).

Palliative Care: Offering Hope & Dignity

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is a means of accompanying someone who is extremely vulnerable and significantly (if not entirely) dependent on others for care. It can be seen as an expression of human solidarity, for we all face moments of vulnerability and dependency in varying degrees from birth to natural death. While palliative care can be (and is) offered by trained practitioners in healthcare facilities, it can be (and often is) delivered by patient-identified caregivers in a number of settings, including the home.

As a comprehensive approach to end-of-life challenges, palliative care combines pain management with efforts to attend to a patient’s psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Palliative care also attends to the practical, emotional, and pastoral needs of caregivers, both professional and patient-identified, to ensure they receive proper support as they journey with the patient through his or her illness as well as after the patient’s death.

Media and Other Voices