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394 • Part III. Christian Morality: The Faith Lived

question is often asked whether persons who have committed suicide

receive eternal salvation. Although suicide is always objectively sinful,

one “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” (CCC, no. 2283). The pastoral care of fam-

ily and friends of those who have taken their own lives is an important

focus for the Church’s healing and compassionate ministry.

Catholic moral tradition has always taught that we can discontinue

medical procedures that are burdensome, extraordinary, and dispropor-

tionate to the outcome. However, respect for every human being demands

the ordinary treatment of the dying by the provision of food, water,

warmth, and hygiene. Ordinary treatment is always a moral requirement.

There is also extraordinary treatment. The Church recognizes that

some medical treatment may not provide benefits commensurate with

the risks of certain medical procedures. Extraordinary medical treat-

ment may not be morally required and can even cease in certain cases,

depending on the benefits to the sick person and the burdens it will or

may impose. For example, in instances when a person has been declared

brain-dead, the patient can be disconnected from mechanical devices

that sustain breathing and the heart since there is little hope of the per-

son’s recovery.

The Death Penalty

Following the lead of Pope John Paul II’s

The Gospel of Life

, the



teaches that governmental authority has the right and duty to

assure the safety of society, and to punish criminals by means of suitable

penalties. This includes imposition of the death penalty if there is no

other way to protect society (cf. CCC, no. 2267). But this principle has

a very restrictive application:

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and pro-

tect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself

to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete

conditions of the common good and more in conformity with

the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a conse-