Is refusal of medical treatment in order to die suicide?

Say a person knows they have cancer and refuses treatment - is this the same as suicide?

The reason being the person wants to die but doesn’t believe in killing themselves, but is refusing treatment the same grave sin as suicide?

In such a case one would contact the National Catholic Bioethics center (whom CA sends people to for such).

Depending on the facts of the case - as to if the treatment is extraordinary in Moral Theology terms.

One is not obliged to use extraordinary measures to preserve ones life (though of course one cannot will suicide). But one is to use ordinary. But what was extraordinary in one place and time and case may ordinary in this case and time etc. So if such comes up - contact the experts I note above. They have a phone number at the bottom of their website where one may call an ethicist on duty (or rather have them call you back).

I just wanted to add, this is a fictional example by the way but I just wanted to know if this was a grave sin or not if this was to happen.

This will be helpful from them…read the whole.

Thank you.

Generally speaking, no. Refusing extraordinary treatment is up to the person. One should not refuse food or water, but sometimes those who are dying just can’t or don’t have the feeling to eat, or get nauseous/ill when they do. I don’t think we can make a blanket judgment on these.

Could the same be said in other medical cases that weren’t as serious but could possibly lead to death, such as not seeking treatment for an infection?

It can, if the means are extraordinary and would not result in any certain outcome. For example, a low chance of cure for an infection which would require a patient to be put in a coma vs. no treatment but some limited time with family.


I have too many friends who have died because of cancer treatments, and its a horrible debilitating way to die. On the other hand, an a uncle and an aunt who chose to just let it run the course both died with dignity, they were both devout Catholics.

See above for details. It is not necessarily a simple matter. Each case must be looked in itself.

Tis a question of ordinary or extraordinary means.

To give kind of an extreme example at both ends to demonstrate when it is and isn’t okay:

If you have a bacterial infection that is mild and costs $30 to treat, and you have a steady job that makes that $30 miniscule, and the bacterial infection will eventually kill you if you just let it simmer, it is not okay to just let it kill you just because you’d have to spend $30 to save yourself.

On the other hand, if you have a rare disease that costs $30,000 after insurance to treat, and you don’t have those kinds of available funds (or spending them would leave your family in poverty if you still died), and especially in the case where treatment isn’t assured, it would be moral to forgo treatment, even though your death would be accelerated.

Any specific case should be looked at by the Church (or the NCBC) and advised upon, if at all possible. If the decision needs to be made abruptly, it is up to your conscience, but you should only allow yourself to die if the treatment would be prohibitively burdensome in some way (whether financial or otherwise), and as Bookcat said, it cannot be done with the intention of killing yourself. The intention must be to avoid the prohibitive burdens of the treatment, and the burdens must actually be prohibitive in some manner.

The problem I am seeing today is that doctors are ill educated. They only see one option, and its surgery and chemo and radiation, their trinity. Their option will cost you a lot of money, will likely bankrupt you. Its also more likely that you will die from their treatment. We are all going to die eventually, so why not another option? I do not think its suicide to not put yourself under a doctor’s “care”. I know far too many people who are suffering " treatments" or have been killed prematurely by doctor’s intervention. In several cases, I call it outright murder.

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