Can a Catholic refuse life saving treatment?

Can a Catholic, who has cancer, refuse life saving medical treatment in the re-placement of herb therapy(from an Indian herb doctor) knowing probably that this won’t work and he will probably die(but yet trusts God he will help him?)

This is a personal choice for the patient to make! There is NO GUARANTEE that the “life-saving treatment” to which you refer will cure anyone! And who’s to say that the Indian herbal treatment isn’t a valid option which would save his/her life without practically killing the patient in the process, as chemotherapy and radiation do? Traditional medicine certainly does NOT hold all the answers. Personally, I would explore all other avenues of treatment before to resorting to traditional methods. Right now, I have TWO good friends (one age 62; the other 71) who died just recently, not from cancer, but from bad effects of chemotherapy! The bottom line on this question is that in this life, none of us will get out alive! The only three things we’re guaranteed in this life are 1) the love of God, 2) free will, and 3) that we’re all going to die from some thing, at some time and in some place. It’s not up to us! So the answer to the question is YES, a Catholic CAN refuse standard medical treatment!

I’m pretty sure the Catechism mentions this. My personal opinion/interpretation is that Catholics can refuse life sustaining treatment if their condition is irreversible, unbeatable, and they are in sound mind. My grandmother and late fiance refused further treatment once their cancers got bad enough that they knew they weren’t going to make it. The treatments were making their time on earth longer, but not with much quality. Quality is better than quantity anyday. They also had both had time to go to Confession, speak to those they loved, and otherwise prepare for meeting God.

Using alternative medicines shouldn’t be an issue since the end goal of both the standard medical treatment & the alternative medicine is to treat the disease and preserve life. However, if the alternative medicine requires a deviation from Catholic spiritual practices (calling on ‘gods’, ‘spirits’, etc) then it probably falls under another category in the Catechism.

You can refuse treatment if it is too burdensome and the chance of success is close to zero, but you can’t refuse routine medical procedures that will likely succeed. If you are bitten by a snake for example you can’t refuse treatment and say instead that you are just going to trust in God. In the question you posed I would say no: you can’t opt out of medical treatment in favor of witchcraft. Refusing treatment in those circumstances would be pretty much the same as committing suicide.

In my opinion when it is your time to go it is your time to go. God has a plan and he will call your name when he calls your name no matter what treatment you try.

That’s true, but none of us are privy to that knowledge…so…there can be and usually is some sort of moral component involved when making a decision to either accept or reject a potentially life-saving treatment.

From the Catechism:

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.

Note that a paragraph 2278 is worded in the disjunctive, ie with an “or”, not an “and”. Therefore, such treatment can be legitimately refused is it is merely “burdensome”. It needn’t be dangerous and extraordinary and disproprotiaonate to the outcome also.
Any one of the factors is arguably sufficient to justify a refusal of treatment.

Excellent point…it is not a decision that I would want to make thats for sure. If he knows for a fact that the alternate treatment will not work I could see a problem but if there is a chance that the non-traditional treatment will work I suppose it would be ok I mean modern medicine doesn’t always work and there have been cases where people have used a raw all vegan diet to put their cancer in remission. I would pray about it and do some research and definatly get a second and maybe third opinion, doctors dont always agree.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit