A Catholic Theological-Ethical View
The Catholic tradition makes relief of suffering a priority, even if life will be shortened as a secondary effect. Yet, the most important part of the Catholic response is relational, social, and based on social justice and communal support for the chronically ill or dying. There is a tension in the Catholic tradition, however, because the ill and dying are also encouraged to identify with Christ’s suffering on the Cross. This is theologically problematic because it seems to make the suffering of human beings (Christ or others) desirable and pleasing to God. These ambiguities are treated in relation to three teaching documents: the Vatican Declaration on Euthanasia (1980), Salvifici Doloris (1984), and the current U.S. Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. Seeing suffering as redemptive may help patients find purpose in the uncontrollable, overcome desperation and alienation, maintain their relationship with God, and sustain hope for a transcendent life.
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