“Ask a Priest: Is Assisted Suicide OK for Me?”

Q: I suffer from a very rare neurological disorder that is extremely debilitating, and death is almost always inevitable from complications from the disease. I have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. I haven’t lost my faith in God and I have accepted my condition. I don’t necessarily believe in praying for a cure because to me, God isn’t some kind of genie that grants wishes. It also seems extremely selfish to ask for when so many people are suffering in the world. I just pray that my family can cope and to find peace. So now to my question, will God forgive me if I hasten my inevitable death via legal physician assisted suicide? They passed the law where I am from and I am an eligible patient. My family doesn’t complain so much about taking care of me, but I know caring for me is burdensome and sucking the life out of them. Please lend me your knowledge. Thank you very much and God bless. – M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I am sorry to hear about your medical condition. Our Lord has given you a heavy cross to bear, but he will be by your side to help you carry it.

I don’t want to sound blunt, but, no, suicide is not allowed in any case.

Permit me to quote from a few numbers in the Catechism.

2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law. [end quoted material]

You need to believe that your life still has meaning. You are a beloved daughter of God. Your example of facing your decline with a spirit of faith can be a great witness to others. Your life is a gift that you need to take care of as best you can. Your suffering can also be a motivation for unity within the family.

Suicide would be a terrible example to others, not least of all because it can inspire (if that is the right verb) other people to give in to despair. Suicide can also lowered people’s esteem for the gift of life. You don’t want to add to this kind of problem.

Instead, stay close to Our Lord. See this as a moment when he has invited you to share in redemptive suffering. You can offer up your suffering for yourself and for your loved ones, and for the conversion of sinners.

You might find our Retreat Guide “A Mother’s Tears” helpful; it has a conference about the value of suffering and what “offering it up” is all about.

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