Catholic priests don't have to perform last rites for patients planning their death by physician-assisted suicide, a Canadian archbishop said.
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, the highest ranking Catholic prelate in the archdiocese of Ottawa, made his opinion clear on Feb. 18, in an interview with the National Catholic Register.
The issue is especially relevant in Canada, where the country's Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 15 that physician-assisted suicide should be permitted. The controversial 5-4 vote allows terminally ill Canadians to choose death in the interim, before legislators pass a bill codifying the right to die in Canadian law, Reuters reported.
“Asking to be killed is gravely disordered and is a rejection of the hope that the rite calls for and tries to bring into the situation,” Prendergast said.
Last rites is a term that encompasses several Catholic sacraments given to dying patients, according to Beliefnet. It usually includes confession, communion and a third sacrament called the anointing of the sick. In Catholic tradition, the last rites prepare a person's soul for the afterlife, reconciling the person with God before death.
But suicide is considered a mortal sin in Catholicism, and sacramental confession is predicated on repentance -- that is, the confessor must genuinely believe the sin is wrong and make a good-faith effort to avoid the sin in the future.
That's incompatible with physician-assisted suicide, Prendergast said.
“The rite is for people who are gravely ill or labor under the burden of years and it contains the forgiveness of sins as part of the rite,” Prendergast told the National Catholic Register. “But we cannot be forgiven preemptively for something we are going to do -- like ask for assisted suicide when suicide is a grave sin.”
Official Catholic opposition to euthanasia was spelled out by then-Pope John Paul II in a 1995 encyclical called "Evangelium Vitae."
In 2013, early in his papacy, Pope Francis denounced euthanasia, saying it is incompatible with the church's teachings and created a false sense of compassion for the dying.
“In reality, in the light of faith and of right reason, human life is always sacred and always ‘of quality,’” Francis said, according to the Catholic News Agency. “No human life exists that is more sacred that the other, just like there is no human life qualitatively more significant than another solely in virtue of resources, rights, economic opportunities and higher social status.”