Head of Pontifical Academy for Life Endorses Assisted Suicide, Violating Catholic Church Teaching

International   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Apr 24, 2023   |   9:50AM   |   Washington, DC

In another alarming statement by a Catholic Church leader, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life made a comment last week appearing to support the legalized killing of people by assisted suicide.

The statement by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, contradicts Christian teachings about the sanctity of human life. Christians believe human beings are valuable from conception to natural death because they are created in the image of God, and ending lives by abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and other means is evil.

However, Paglia said assisted suicide may be a “feasible” option in certain circumstances during the International Journalism Festival on April 19 in Perugia, Italy, according to the Catholic News Agency.

“Personally, I would not practice suicide assistance, but I understand that legal mediation may be the greatest common good concretely possible under the conditions we find ourselves in,” the archbishop said at the festival.

Although Paglia spoke out against countries that have legalized involuntary euthanasia, he said it was “not to be ruled out” that legalized assisted suicide “is feasible in our society” under certain circumstances, CNA reports.

He expressed support for a 2019 Italian constitutional court ruling allowing assisted suicide when a person is “kept alive by life-sustaining treatments and suffering from an irreversible pathology, a source of physical or psychological suffering that he/she deems intolerable, but fully capable of making free and informed decisions.”

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Paglia suggested the church may be wrong about assisted suicide, saying theological understanding of Christianity “evolves.”

Here’s more from the report:

Paglia pointed to Pope Francis’ decision in 2018 to revise the Catechism of the Catholic Church to state that the death penalty is “inadmissible.”

“The contribution of Christians is made within the different cultures, neither above — as if they possessed an a priori given truth — nor below — as if believers were the bearers of a respectable opinion, but disengaged from history,” Paglia continued.

“Between believers and non-believers there is a relationship of mutual learning,” Paglia said.

“As believers, therefore, we ask the same questions that concern everyone, in the knowledge that we are in a pluralistic democratic society. In this case, about the end of (earthly) life, we find ourselves all facing a common question: How can we reach (together) the best way to articulate the good (ethical plane) and the just (legal plane), for each person and for society?”

UPDATE: Responding to the alarm Monday, the Pontifical Academy for Life issued a statement explaining that Paglia opposes assisted suicide but believes Italy may have a “legal initiative” to decriminalize it under “specific and particular conditions,” according to the National Catholic Register.

In the statement, the academy said Paglia “reiterates his ‘no’ towards euthanasia and assisted suicide, in full adherence to the magisterium.” It said his comments specifically were in reference to the situation in Italy.

The academy said the archbishop’s opinion is that a “legal mediation” but “certainly not a moral one” is possible to decriminalize assisted suicide in some cases in Italy. However, it continued: “… for Archbishop Paglia, it is important that the [court’s] ruling states that the crime [of assisted suicide] remains as such and is not abolished. Any further consideration is misleading.”

“On a scientific and cultural level, Archbishop Paglia has always advocated the need for accompaniment towards the sick in the terminal phase of life, based on Palliative Care and proximity, so that no one is left alone in the face of illness and suffering, in the difficult decisions they entail,” the statement read.

Paglia’s comments are just the latest in a series of concerning actions and statements about the sanctity of life by Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis.

Last year, the pope received international criticism for appointing pro-abortion academics to the Pontifical Academy for Life, an institution dedicated to defending life.

The appointees included Mariana Mazzucato, a University College London economist who has advocated for abortion repeatedly on Twitter, and Msgr. Philippe Bordeyne, a theologian critical of “Humanae Vitae,” an encyclical by Pope Paul VI defending human life and marriage.

In 2017, the pope also faced criticism for appointing Nigel Biggar, a professor of theology at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who made statements supporting abortion up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.

The Pontifical Academy for Life, created in 1994 by Pope John Paul II, promotes protections for human life at all stages and conducts research on moral and bioethical issues. It is influential world-wide in promoting Catholic teachings on abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and other issues involving life and family.

Pope Francis repeatedly has condemned the killing of unborn babies in abortions, likening it to hiring a “hitman” to kill a child. However, his actions continue to raise questions.

According to CNA, the pope has made a number of changes to the Pontifical Academy for Life in recent years, including no longer requiring members to sign a declaration that they are pro-life or requiring that they be Christians. The academy does say members should “promote and defend the principles regarding the value of life and dignity of the human person, interpreted in a way that conforms to the Magisterium of the Church,” and members may be removed if their public actions or statements contradict or offend “the dignity and credibility of the Catholic Church,” according to the report.