Can someone explain the Church's teaching on prolonging life artificially?

When is it acceptable to take someone off of life support and let them pass away? I know people who say “their quality of life is poor” but I know that is not a legitimate reason. Can someone please enlighten me on what the Church teaches on this subject?

Im curious about this too. The other night, I watched a documentary done by a university in NY, they are currently doing research into transferring a human conscious to a kind of computer storage device, while they are not quite there yet, they are getting close they claim! I was amazed at the things they were saying too, they had alot of scientists, genetic and other experts who were explaining how this will be done in the future, they way they are describing it, and if it works like they claim, it will literally end the brains death.

The body will still die, but they have an solution for that too, a fake biological ‘body’ will be used and the conscious of the persons brain will be transferred from the hard drive and then to this biological body. They have this down to a science, I can only imagine what this will mean for our civilization, but I assume it will start out as only being available to the very wealthy, but eventually, probably be available to everyone if they like.

If you have seen this type of documentary, I encourage you to google this and I think you will be amazed at what they are developing! I keep thinking…this is only 2014, what will our lives be like in another 25, 50, 100 yrs? by then, if this succeeds, no ones conscious will die, they will be able to keep right on going after their body dies!!! Truly amazing!

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.

The operative words here are: “They are getting close, they claim.” They have to say that to keep getting their research money. Talk to me in 20 years, if they make any progress. And the idea of all of us having access to this brain transplant or storage is just not the way the healthcare business presently works. Until then let’s talk about artificial life support.

The Church’s position is clear on the difference between directly ending a life versus the death that might occur after a necessary or possible surgery or medication that is used to treat the disease, disorder or pain. Example: some dosages of morphine are necessary to treat the pain but may hasten death; that would be acceptable. Administering a deadly dose of morphine to someone who does not need such a dosage but wants to hasten death is wrong–it is the deliberate taking of life. When there is an artificial support system that is available and might prolong the patient’s life, it is considered a good thing to pursue: a chance of survival… If a patient or family member declined artificial support, that is acceptable. It is not a deliberate taking of life.

The issue is one of intention and discernment: of whether the life support would be beneficial or not, and an issue of getting good advice from a good doctor about the patient’s chances of survival. And I will tell you, there are certain doctors whom I would trust more than others to help me make this decision with my life or the life of a loved one. I know a few doctors who will withhold antibiotics because they deem the patient’s “quality of life” is poor. I’m not sure that is an acceptable and ethical call on “Quality of Life”. I have seen too many patients in skilled nursing die a few days after their insurance ran out. Something was withheld from them because their money ran out and they died. So having money dictates “Quality of Life”?

My mother’s lungs were filled with fluid and the doctor called us in to discuss getting her off the respirator and letting her die a natural death before morning. He was certain that she would be gone by morning. Against his judgment. we asked for a night to pray for her. Why was he rushing? The next day her x-rays showed clear lungs. She was home within two weeks.

I don’t mean to trash all doctors and I don’t mean we should prolong life artificially in every situation. But I do think an ethic of ‘giving life a chance’ is a good ethic. I’m not certain all medical minds agree on that note. I am sure that the Catholic Church agrees on that ethic. And that life ethic causes medical personnel to fight for life, and not neglect a patient for a “quality” issue.

The Catechism is quite clear (note above) Our Parish had a panel of Doctors, Ethics Specialists and Priests/Religious to help us understand this better. “Extraordinary” procedures or artificial means of life support are not necessary. The Ethics professor who was also a Physician, said that you can provide feeding, hydration, pain medication or other palliative care but you don’t have to continue a fruitless treatment protocol or invasive surgery if there is no hope it will be a benefit to the person.

I know there is the stereotype that Catholics want people kept alive on machines even if they are not even breathing on their own. This is not true. But neither do we “help” someone die with medication or by withholding hydration. I remember the horror of Terri Schiavo’s death where they stopped hydration and the agony of dying in such a cruel manner.

I work in a clinic and there is the whole range of requests from “everything” to “pull the plug” and rarely do people really think through the process before it becomes an issue for you or a loved one. Our Catholic faith provides such a helpful and compassionate guide to these critical issues.


I hope this is never accomplished. There has been research done for years now on doing head transplants. No thanks folks.

Having worked with the aged dying, and taken care of several relatives dying from cancer all I can say is that there are certain signs that death is evident or coming. These include blood pressure changes, temperature changes, skin coloration, the persons level of consciousness and even the person speaking to those who have all ready passed. (For those who are verbal.)

It is my understanding that the Church does not require that we take extraordinary means to keep us alive. So it is possible for me to tell my family if I have a severe brain injury and in the process of my treatment my heart stops, that I don’t want CPR. The doctors can let me go and there would be nothing wrong with that. Or if I had cancer and it is known that there is nothing more that can be done I can stop treatment and let nature take it’s course.

However, if life support has been started than it is harder to say “pull the plug.” I think once a person has been declared brain dead there really is no reason to continue extra ordinary means to keep them going. At that time I don’t think it is wrong to stop these measures and let the person pass. But to intentionally drug them to hasten death would be wrong.

I think our scientific knowledge may make some of this seem harder to figure out, but my own experience has been that the signs of impending death are fairly obvious. People used to be more aware of that when they took care of family and friends themselves. Now everything is done in a care facility or hospital and I think we have lost touch with the dying process and that makes harder for people to recognize and accept.

Yeah, and someone will invent the hover board by this time next year, too…

I’ll deal with these possibilities when they start to bear fruit; not before.


From the National Catholic Bioethics Center:


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