Murder and Suicide


Television shows are mostly junk, but I heard of a double ethical problem proposed on a detective show recently which puzzled me.

A man had committed several murders undetected. One other knew, but could prove nothing. The murderer then prepared to do it again ( thinking no one was onto him). The one who knew could not stop this either, but would have been able to prove it on him this time, and have him arrested.

But, this would have required one more death. Time was pressing and neither the victim nor the police could be warned in time. After some agonising, the other went over to his house and killed him.

The other, who had been law abiding all his life, did not tell anyone what he had done, but did not flee either. He thought he should pay somehow for his act, but as 'un bon catholique'
believed that suicide was strictly forbidden. However, he had a heart condition treated with digitalis. He simply failed to take it one day, sat in a chair, and let nature take its course. A signed confession was found next to the body the following day.

What do you reckon?


It sounds like you recently watched the final episode of Poirot!

By the way, you haven’t actually asked a question. What is your question?


What do you reckon? Should he have killed him? And is failing to take medicine suicide?

I had the situation described to me, but not seen the show yet. But it’s ok, no spoilers, I read ‘Curtain’ years ago. This sounds a little different from what I remember, but thought I should give the problem as described.


This is rather strange. If the one who knew knew that the murderer would strike again, and so committed a murder, why didn't he muder the killer!


So you’re saying the person who suspected the serial murderer committed a murder of his own - in order to help expose the serial murderer? Am I reading that right? That doesn’t make much sense to me. If you thought the serial murderer’s actions were evil then why would you do the same thing? :confused:


I think that’s what the OP is describing. He murdered the first murderer before he could strike again.

To answer the OP, I don’t think what he did in either case was moral. Instead of murdering the killer in cold blood he could have followed him and attempted to protect the next victim. He could have notified the police anyway, even though he didn’t think there was enough time. No one can ever really know there’s not enough time. It seems like a false dilemma.

And I believe failing to take life-sustaining medication with the intent to die would probably be suicide. Sounds like the second murderer was suffering from despair as well. He could have “paid” for the crime by confessing to the police and accepting whatever verdict came with it.


[quote="mgoforth, post:6, topic:345270"]
I think that's what the OP is describing. He murdered the first murderer before he could strike again.


Oh right, so he killed the serial murderer. I read it as he killed the next intended victim. I guess it was late at night :p


[quote="SpidersfromMars, post:7, topic:345270"]
Oh right, so he killed the serial murderer. I read it as he killed the next intended victim. I guess it was late at night :p


Yeah, me too :o


I do think murder in cold blood can not be right , malum in se, as they say. What makes me uncertain is that the problem as described seems to say that any other course leads to the death of another victim. Could it be similar to fighting to prevent a murder, with the death of the aggressor resulting? I guess the only thing to do is see the show, so I know exactly what the situation is. Has anyone here seen it?

As for suicide I suppose you are right, best not to despair, and assume you know the outcome. And not taking life-preserving steps does seem tantamount to taking life-destroying steps. Is there anything in the Catechism of the Catholic Church dealing with this? Thanks for the responses.


MURDER is always a sin of grave matter. Murder is not self defence or defence of others.
If you know (but cannot prove) a person is a serial killer you may NOT kill that person by trying to justify that the act saves future victims of that person. You would be committing murder.
The Church teaching is clear that you may not do an evil act (murder someone) to achieve a good (save future victims).

On the other issue refusing to take life saving medication is not an act of suicide. That is simply letting nature take its course.


Exploring that, say the one we are speaking of is sitting somewhere and suddenly, independently of his will, an avalanche starts. He could get out of its path if he wanted, but decides to do nothing, and die. Suicide, or natural causes?


Listen. I’m not going to give answers to a whole list of permutations. That can be endless.
Refusing to take life saving medication is not suicide. It is letting nature take its course.


So, I suppose, is staying in front of an avalanche letting nature take its course. Rather literally .
Thanks for the responses, helping me to explore this.


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