I did some research into the current rulings on this subject. I thought that it might be helpful for us to know more about this. Here is what I found out:
Euthanasia – Catechism of the Catholic Church
By Catechism of the Catholic Church
2276 Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.
2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.
Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.
2278 Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.
2279 Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.
Here is what the USCCB has released on this subject. There are actually five parts to this document. Part five is the most important for us. Here it is:
Issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
November 17, 2009
Ethical and Religious Directives for
Catholic Health Care Services
Issues in Care for the Seriously Ill and Dying
Christ‘s redemption and saving grace embrace the whole person, especially in his or her
illness, suffering, and death.35 The Catholic health care ministry faces the reality of death
with the confidence of faith. In the face of death—for many, a time when hope seems lost—
the Church witnesses to her belief that God has created each person for eternal life.36
Above all, as a witness to its faith, a Catholic health care institution will be a community of
respect, love, and support to patients or residents and their families as they face the reality of
death. What is hardest to face is the process of dying itself, especially the dependency, the
helplessness, and the pain that so often accompany terminal illness. One of the primary
purposes of medicine in caring for the dying is the relief of pain and the suffering caused by it.
Effective management of pain in all its forms is critical in the appropriate care of the dying.
The truth that life is a precious gift from God has profound implications for the question of
stewardship over human life. We are not the owners of our lives and, hence, do not have
absolute power over life. We have a duty to preserve our life and to use it for the glory of God,
but the duty to preserve life is not absolute, for we may reject life-prolonging procedures that
are insufficiently beneficial or excessively burdensome. Suicide and euthanasia are never
morally acceptable options.
The task of medicine is to care even when it cannot cure. Physicians and their patients must
evaluate the use of the technology at their disposal. Reflection on the innate dignity of human
life in all its dimensions and on the purpose of medical care is indispensable for formulating a
true moral judgment about the use of technology to maintain life. The use of life-sustaining
technology is judged in light of the Christian meaning of life, suffering, and death. In this
way two extremes are avoided: on the one hand, an insistence on useless or burdensome
technology even when a patient may legitimately wish to forgo it and, on the other hand, the
withdrawal of technology with the intention of causing death.37
The Church‘s teaching authority has addressed the moral issues concerning medically
assisted nutrition and hydration. We are guided on this issue by Catholic teaching against
euthanasia, which is ―an action or an omission which of itself or by intention causes death, in
order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated.‖38 While medically assisted nutrition
and hydration are not morally obligatory in certain cases, these forms of basic care should in
principle be provided to all patients who need them, including patients diagnosed as being in
a ―persistent vegetative state‖ (PVS), because even the most severely debilitated and
helpless patient retains the full dignity of a human person and must receive ordinary and
55. Catholic health care institutions offering care to persons in danger of death from
illness, accident, advanced age, or similar condition should provide them with
appropriate opportunities to prepare for death. Persons in danger of death should be
provided with whatever information is necessary to help them understand their
condition and have the opportunity to discuss their condition with their family
members and care providers. They should also be offered the appropriate medical
information that would make it possible to address the morally legitimate choices
available to them. They should be provided the spiritual support as well as the
opportunity to receive the sacraments in order to prepare well for death.
56. A person has a moral obligation to use ordinary or proportionate means of preserving
his or her life. Proportionate means are those that in the judgment of the patient offer
a reasonable hope of benefit and do not entail an excessive burden or impose excessive
expense on the family or the community.39
57. A person may forgo extraordinary or disproportionate means of preserving life.
Disproportionate means are those that in the patient‘s judgment do not offer a
reasonable hope of benefit or entail an excessive burden, or impose excessive expense
on the family or the community.
58. In principle, there is an obligation to provide patients with food and water, including
medically assisted nutrition and hydration for those who cannot take food orally. This
obligation extends to patients in chronic and presumably irreversible conditions (e.g.,
the ―persistent vegetative state”) who can reasonably be expected to live indefinitely if
given such care.40 Medically assisted nutrition and hydration become morally
optional when they cannot reasonably be expected to prolong life or when they would
be ―excessively burdensome for the patient or [would] cause significant physical
discomfort, for example resulting from complications in the use of the means
employed.‖41 For instance, as a patient draws close to inevitable death from an
underlying progressive and fatal condition, certain measures to provide nutrition and
hydration may become excessively burdensome and therefore not obligatory in light of
their very limited ability to prolong life or provide comfort.
59. The free and informed judgment made by a competent adult patient concerning the
use or withdrawal of life-sustaining procedures should always be respected and
normally complied with, unless it is contrary to Catholic moral teaching.
60. Euthanasia is an action or omission that of itself or by intention causes death in order
to alleviate suffering. Catholic health care institutions may never condone or
participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide in any way. Dying patients who request
euthanasia should receive loving care, psychological and spiritual support, and
appropriate remedies for pain and other symptoms so that they can live with dignity
until the time of natural death.42
61. Patients should be kept as free of pain as possible so that they may die comfortably
and with dignity, and in the place where they wish to die. Since a person has the right
to prepare for his or her death while fully conscious, he or she should not be deprived of
consciousness without a compelling reason. Medicines capable of alleviating or
suppressing pain may be given to a dying person, even if this therapy may indirectly
shorten the person‘s life so long as the intent is not to hasten death. Patients
experiencing suffering that cannot be alleviated should be helped to appreciate the
Christian understanding of redemptive suffering.
62. The determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical
authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.
63. Catholic health care institutions should encourage and provide the means whereby
those who wish to do so may arrange for the donation of their organs and bodily
tissue, for ethically legitimate purposes, so that they may be used for donation and
research after death.
64. Such organs should not be removed until it has been medically determined that the
patient has died. In order to prevent any conflict of interest, the physician who
determines death should not be a member of the transplant team.
65. The use of tissue or organs from an infant may be permitted after death has been
determined and with the informed consent of the parents or guardians.
66. Catholic health care institutions should not make use of human tissue obtained by
direct abortions even for research and therapeutic purposes.43