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Responding to Assisted Suicide Issues (Part II of II)

April 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Church Teaching, Death and Dying, Fr. Bartunek

Responding to Assisted Suicide Issues
(Part II of II)

Editor's Note: In part one, we talked about the suffering of innocents and whether or not it is possible to win all arguments. Today, we will look reflect on the sacredness of human life and the meaning in suffering. Here is the question we are examining:

Dear Fr. Bartunek, as usual, your reflections are quite helpful and I often share your wisdom with others. However, I have a big question regarding the idea that God permits some evil, and the suffering that comes from it, even the suffering of innocents. Recently, I had a discussion with my ob-gyn regarding assisted suicide, which is now legal in California. Her question was why should young children suffer the ravages of cancer or other dreaded diseases which involve such catastrophic suffering? Further, she said: We put animals down when they are suffering. I attempted to explain that children are not like animals, in that they have souls and we cannot put them down. She witnessed her father going through an agonizing process of dying and said she saw the assisted suicide in those cases not a problem. I also attempted an explanation of suffering to be a way of joining our suffering to that of Christ on the cross. This she totally disagreed with because, as she said, that was different for Him and He didn't experience the suffering. I tried explaining that Jesus took on our humanity and did suffer exactly the same way we do. Please help, Fr. Bartunek. One, about her response to ending a TheFirstAndLastCommunionCristobalRojas08achild's life because of suffering, and two, about Jesus, in His humanity, suffering.

Fr. Bartunek, I understand that what I am asking about this suffering may not be the result of evil; but I had not found an answer to this physician’s questions from someone whose opinion I respected, as I do yours. Thanks again for all of your many explanations and much-needed help over the years at

Human Life is Sacred

As human beings, and especially as Christians, we are called to love our neighbors, to battle against evil whenever we can, to relieve each other’s sufferings (to bear each other’s burdens, as St. Paul put it) and to walk together through this Valley of Tears. But human life itself remains sacred. Each person is created in the image and likeness of God. We cannot simply put people to death in order to minimize suffering, the way we put an aged horse or a lame dog to death, because we have no right to do so.

Human life is a gift from God, and God is the only one who is sovereign over it, from natural birth to natural death. Yes, it pains us to see those we love suffer, and we are certainly permitted to do all within our power to help alleviate that suffering. But to extinguish a human soul is not simply to alleviate suffering; it is also to extinguish every other aspect of their lives – it is to put ourselves in the place of God. Human beings are unlike all the other animals on the earth, whom Adam named (thus showing that he was giving authority over them);  they are unique and called to live eternally with God. We have no right to throw any of them away, as if they were merely a product that had lost its usefulness.

Suffering Can Have Meaning

Furthermore, God has indeed given meaning to suffering. Jesus truly suffered (just read the Gospel accounts of his Passion, or watch “The Passion of the Christ,” which beautifully dramatizes the reality of Christ’s humanity, and so the reality of his suffering). And yet, his suffering and death had a purpose – they atoned for the world’s sin and opened the door to eternal life; Good Friday gave way to Easter Sunday. This is a pattern that God has built into his plan of salvation. It means that in order to save us from sin and evil, God’s first step was not to eliminate those things, but to promise to bring good out of them when we live them with a spirit of repentance and faith.

This sounds strange, from the abstract point of view. But in concrete terms, I truly believe everyone can understand it. We have all known families, for example, who have had a child with Down Syndrome. It is a blow to the family initially, a cross and a source of suffering for them – they were hoping for a healthy child. And yet, so many times, when the child is welcomed and loved, that very child becomes a profound blessing in many unforeseen ways. Likewise, we all have known families in which one member was struck with cancer, and the suffering and pain that ensued became a path to reconciliation and deeper unity and love among the family members. Sickness and disease in themselves are certainly not good things. But God through his providence can turn even those evils into sources of redemption and saving grace.

Much more could be said – about the interior spiritual fruits, for example, that ensue when sufferings and injustices are born with prayer and bathed in faith and hope. But I hope these thoughts are enough to give you food for reflection and conversation. Thank you again for submitting your question. I will pray for you and for your doctor.

God bless you! In Him, Fr. John Bartunek, LC, SThD


Art: The First and the Last Communion, Cristobal Rojas, 1888, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Judy Silhan

    Thanks, Fr. Bartunek, for your response to this issue of assisted suicide. I had not thought to present to the doctor Christ’s passion in the Gospels, nor the movie, to help her see the reality of HIs suffering which He accepted when He took on our human nature. I also appreciate you explanation that life is a gift from God, and He is the only one who is sovereign over it, despite the fact that we may have to witness a loved one, even a child. experience horrific suffering that comes with cancer and other diseases, and that we have no right to act as God and end such a life, anyone’s life. My prayer is that my doctor, who has chosen to answer God’s call of bringing children into this world by being an obstetrician, will better understand these things of which you have spoken.

  • Donald B Flumerfelt

    One of ther keys to this debate it the utter rejection of modern individuals to be free of all suffering not only for self but for others. It is an intellectual error of immense proportions….Jesus said ” In this world you will have tribulation , but be of good cheer . I have overcome the world.” No one any profession whatsoever is going to attain credibility as a professional without trials that have to be overcome in their training. This philosophy of the right of individual freedom in all things is by definition the philosophy of the anti- Christan and anti Church secularist. But for us as Catholics in PAD situations, it is the ommitting to hell ( as Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa declared this week) of an indiviual who cannot reciev confession and last rites but die in mortal sin. I am reading the journal of St. Faustna Kowalski. Over and over again she speaks of the redemptive value of entering a walk with Jesus through personal suffering and intercessions for the suffering of others…that all ay know the life -giving power of the ocean of Jesus Divine Mercy.
    Further ad Christian heart surgeon recently spoke to a gathering of CWL members in Yellowknife, NT. Dr. Hendricks explaine that in onesense we should all(including the Church) believe in Euthanasia ( a good death). The problem with our day is that self-centered philosophies have co-opted this good principle of service to the dying. Palliative care when done well rings about good death for patients. When a person gives a health directive to say ” When all medial procedures cannot prevent that natural process of death, then stop such heroic procedues and let God be God and bring the person home with peace . The bdy is tired let it rest.” This is NOT planned murder of a suffering individual. Further, First nations understandings of good death may well save North America from this blight of irrational individualism..The First Nations people do vigil with their dying family memember for as long as it takes , when the patient is approaching death. The whole family of immediate and extended relatives come together to love, care fotr any reasonable wish of the dying, to pray for and with the patient. They become an incredibly important Palliative Care team who work with the nurses and doctorsto bring about Good Death.
    Fr. Don Flumerfelt Assumption Catholic Parish, Hay River , NWT , Canada Diocese of Mackenzie-Ft. Smith

    • LizEst

      Yes, the Lord gives special graces to the dying, who, in turn, have much to teach us.

      One administrative question for you, Father: Would you kindly please spell out the acronyms (abbreviations) you’ve used? Thank you. We have a worldwide readership here and many, myself included, do not know all of them. I presume that NWT means Northwest Territories. Does PAD mean Physician Assisted Death? What about CWL? Thank you so much.

      • Joan

        Hi Liz, could CWL be short for Catholic Women’s League? it is in our parish.

        • LizEst

          That appears to be it, Joan. Thanks! I could only find it as an abbreviation for that. God bless you for helping all of us out.

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