Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On Ending Your Own Life

A couple of weeks ago someone requested that I make a post on the moral implications of committing suicide. I regret that I was unable to address this sooner, and even now, my post will have to be brief. Things have been pretty hectic with the semester approaching it's end, but I want to at least say something about sucide while I have a couple of minutes to spare.

Suicide falls under the Fifth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," or perhaps better translated, "Thou shalt not murder". The distinction between "kill" and "murder" is important. It's actually somewhat imprecise to say "Thou shalt not kill" b/c there are some circumstances in which taking the life of another is justifiable (for example, in the case of self-defense, or in the killing of animals for food). But, "murder" is the taking of innocent human life, and this is always wrong.

At any rate, in the Catechism, suicide is listed with intentional homicide, abortion, and euthanasia as actions that show a disrespect for human life. Four articles and a line from the "In Brief" at the end are devoted to suicide:
  • 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.

    Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

    2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

    2325 Suicide is seriously contrary to justice, hope, and charity. It is forbidden by the fifth commandment.
It's important to note that, while "grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide" (no. 2282), since only that person and God know exactly how culpible the person is for committing suicide, we can (and I think we must) hold out hope that salvation is still possible for that person. That is also why we are encouraged to pray for the souls of those who commit suicide. Such prayers would be pointless if we believed that every single person who committed suicide went straight to hell.

Of course, even though there is always hope, a person still puts his soul in a very precarious position whenever he takes his life, since suicide is such a violent act against the legitimate love of self that we are all required to maintain. As such, suicide should be avoided at all cost. Life is a gift to be cherished!

For more on suicide, see the following articles: The entry in the Directory on euthanasia applies to this topic, as does the entry on the redeeming value of sickness and suffering. God can bring good out of even the most intense pain.

May the Archangel Michael and the Blessed Virgin Mary fight for us in our final hour, and may God grant us the grace of final perseverence.

Pax Christi,

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