VANCOUVER—The legalization of assisted suicide in Canada has left many local Catholics confused about what to do when a loved one asks to die at the hands of a doctor. Now Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, has released a four-page document for pastors and parishioners: Guidelines Regarding the Funeral Rites for Those Who Have Asked for Euthanasia or Physician-Assisted Suicide.
He denounces the legalization of the practice. “The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the law against euthanasia was gravely wrong, and the federal government’s assisted suicide legislation has legalized morally evil actions.”
Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide “both entail the deliberate taking of human life in violation of the Fifth Commandment.”
Archbishop Miller writes, when someone is faced with a diagnosis of terminal illness, the best thing to do is to call a priest. “He will be able to offer the merciful love of Christ in the healing power of the sacraments” and help answer any moral questions about treatments or concerns and requests about funeral rites.
If a Catholic brings up assisted suicide or euthanasia, a priest “must do everything in his power” to explain the Church’s opposition to those practices, encourage them to accept natural death as part of God’s plan for life, help prepare them for “life in the world to come,” and dedicate his prayers and penance for them, instructs Archbishop Miller.
In the case of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, this final action of a person’s life has been chosen in violation of the clear teachings of the Church; it is an act which expressions a serious defect in belief and in unity with the faithful.
If a person goes ahead with assisted death, “the Church still hopes that God will be merciful and that the dying person will turn to him in repentance, seeking forgiveness in the last moments.”
Funeral Masses are the “highest expression of prayer that can be offered for a deceased loved one,” but not appropriate in all situations.
“In the case of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, this final action of a person’s life has been chosen in violation of the clear teachings of the Church; it is an act which expresses a serious defect in belief and in unity with the faithful.”
He said it is “the Church’s practice” not to allow a Catholic funeral Mass in these cases, though there are rare exceptions that would require permission from the Archbishop or Vicar General.
Those who follow through with assisted deaths, however, can be buried in a Catholic cemetery or blessed family lot, have a priest or deacon conduct a graveside service, and be prayed for during a public Mass sometime after the burial.
In all cases, there must be no “sign that the choice of suicide has or ever could be approved” by the Catholic Church. The letter will be published on rcav.org and promoted in all parishes Nov. 2.