Euthanasia/Death Penalty

“Even when not motivated by a selfish refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false mercy, and indeed a disturbing ‘perversion’ of mercy. True ‘compassion’ leads to sharing another's pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.” (Evangelium Vitae, 66).

“The nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” (Evangelium Vitae, 56).

At the end of life, man and woman find themselves facing the mystery of death. With the advent of new innovations in the fields of science and medicine, the experience of death is now marked with a series of new questions and new attitudes. Especially in developed countries, where the prevailing tendency is to value life only to the extent it brings pleasure and well-being, the temptation has grown to use recourse to euthanasia. Though this treatment may seem at first consideration logical and humane, when examined more closely, it is seen to be senseless and inhumane. At the heart of euthanasia is a certain “Promethean attitude,” as Blessed John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae, “which leads people to think they can control life and death by taking the decisions about them into their own hands.” (15). The Knights of Columbus, therefore, rejects euthanasia and instead opts for the Culture of Life.

We believe, consistent with Sacred Scripture and the natural law written on man’s heart, that God alone possesses the power over life and death. “No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death.” (Ecclesiastes 8:8). When man usurps such power, on the basis of skewed notions of autonomy, he inevitably uses it for injustice and death. Life is everywhere and at all times inviolable and sacred; its value does not change on the basis of physical well-being or normality. The Church understands euthanasia “to be an action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering.” (Evangelium Vitae, 65). It is tantamount to the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. Euthanasia, however, becomes more serious when it takes the form of a murder committed by others on a person who has never consented to it. The “height of arbitrariness and injustice is reached when certain people arrogate to themselves the power to decide who ought to live and who ought to die.” (Evangelium Vitae, 66).

It is on this same basis that the Knights of Columbus also supports the elimination of the death penalty when there is an acceptable alternative. Although the Catholic Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, with the evolution of the penal system in the developed world, it has grown increasingly reluctant to support such recourse. Blessed John Paul II wrote in Evangelium vitae: “Modern society now has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform.” (27). The Catechism of the Catholic Church also favors the priority of life: “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.” (Catechism, No. 2267).