September 26, 2016

EDMONTON - The Bishops of Alberta and Northwest Territories have issued pastoral guidelines for clergy dealing with Catholics who are considering euthanasia or assisted suicide.

The complex document explains eligibility to sacraments such as Penance and Anointing of the Sick. It also discusses whether Catholics who have chosen to die by euthanasia or assisted suicide should receive a Catholic funeral.

"In our day a priest may encounter a penitent who has officially requested physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia," the document says.

"The penitent has not yet been killed nor has he/she committed suicide, but he or she has initiated the process, which is already a grave matter.

"If the penitent does not rescind this request, he or she will be killed," they write. "They are in this objective state of sin, which is gravely disordered. They have incited and officially arranged for someone to kill them.

"For a sin to be a mortal sin, however, which actually separates us from God, we know that three things must be present: 1) the matter must be grave; 2) the person must be aware of this; and 3) the person must freely choose it," the bishops write.

A person may be in an objective state of sin but not aware euthanasia is a grave sin, the document says. Their freedom may be impaired through "depression, drugs, or pressure from others."

"If the penitent, having been made aware of the gravity of the situation, is open to learning the Church's teaching on this issue, and open to reconsidering the decision, the priest can absolve," they write.

"There is at least the beginning of contrition, a willingness to reconsider and thus possibly rectify their situation.

"If they are not open at least to prayerfully considering the rescinding of their request - now that they know it is a grave sin - they would be choosing to do something gravely wrong, that is to say, deciding to remain in a situation of sin rather than seek to amend their life," the bishops write.

"In this case, the minister would need to delay absolution to a later time when the person may be properly disposed."

The Anointing of the Sick usually follows Reconciliation or Confession, the bishops write, but it can be given to an unconscious person. It presumes repentance. Those who refuse to repent, who are not contrite, are not "properly disposed" to receive the sacrament.


When it comes to funerals, the bishops ask Catholics to hold two truths in balance.

"First, all ecclesiastical funerals are offered for sinners. The Church, as a generous mother, is eager to intercede for her children even when they have wandered," the bishops say.

"Second, however, the Church requires her funeral celebrations to be real signs of faith and to be respectful of the conscience and decisions of those who have died."

(The complete document on the guidelines is available at