Ireland's Bishops issue a pastoral letter “Freedom to Live Fully, Until Death Comes” Ireland's Bishops issue a pastoral letter “Freedom to Live Fully, Until Death Comes”  (©Robert Kneschke -

Irish Bishops underscore compassion and healing in end-of-life care

The Bishops of Ireland issue a pastoral letter for people of faith and goodwill who wish to protect and support human life in end-of-life situations.

By Thaddeus Jones

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has published a pastoral statement entitled “Freedom to Live Fully, Until Death Comes” to inform people of faith and goodwill who wish to protect and support human life with dignity and compassion, especially in the last weeks of terminal illness.

The pastoral letter came out at the end of June 2024, in view of national discussions following the Irish parliament’s “Final Report of the Joint Committee on Assisted Dying” published in March that makes a series of recommendations to government when introducing legislation allowing for assisted dying in certain circumstances.

The pastoral statement consists of a text, but also a 35-minute video that explains and illustrates the Church’s teachings on end-of-life care, and especially its focus on the compassionate care needs of the whole person. Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin Diocese and Chair of the Irish Bishops' Council for Life spoke to Vatican News (full interview below), and said the aim of the video was to better convey the human reality of these issues.

The video is entitled “Through the Valley” and features a collection of reflections and conversations with the terminally ill, family members of people who have died with terminal illness, and healthcare professionals. Bishop Doran believes, “this medium of film helps to capture…a human story which is so important in getting across the message that it is actually possible to live fully and richly, even in terminal illness and even in palliative care.”

The pastoral letter at the outset underscores that "every human person possesses an infinite dignity, inalienably grounded in his or her very being, which prevails in and beyond every circumstance, state, or situation the person may ever encounter."

Growth, inner healing, peace

Palliative and pastoral care ideally focus on the needs of the whole person, together with loved ones caring for the person, in light of God’s unconditional love for all and the Christian duty to respond in turn. The statement and video illustrate how the final weeks of terminal illness can offer profound experiences of human and spiritual growth, the healing of past hurts, and the discovery of inner peace, even when the value of human life can be hard to recognise in weakness and fragility.

More life in final days

The pastoral letter recalls how “the Church does not and never has insisted on the use of extraordinary means to prolong life” or any moral obligation for a sick person “to accept treatment which they feel is unduly burdensome.” But “assisted suicide” would undermine the confidence of the terminally ill, cut off any prospect of growth or healing and mark a failure of hope, the statement notes.

The document affirms the “freedom to live” with the support of a “compassionate community of care” as the proper response that profoundly respects human dignity, whereas, “by legislating for assisted suicide or euthanasia, the State would contribute to undermining the confidence of people who are terminally ill, who want to be cared for and want to live life as fully as possible until death naturally comes.”

Response to recent euthanasia legislation

In response to the possible introduction of legislation facilitating assisted suicide or euthanasia, Bishop Doran, speaking to Vatican News. warns that, “once one accepts the principle that a person can deliberately take the life of another person, then the foundations of civilization are undermined because people who are sick feel vulnerable, feel at risk when they should always feel that they're able to trust healthcare professionals.”

The Bishops in the pastoral statement also warn that “it would be only a matter of time before proposals would be on the table again to extend the availability of assisted suicide to those in our society who are most vulnerable, including people with intellectual disabilities.” At the same time, undue pressure could be placed on doctors and nurses to participate directly or by referral in acts to end life that they believe to be wrong or immoral, the Bishops point out, and they “call on Catholics to stand firmly in support of nurses and doctors who stand for life” as “one day it may be your life.”

Listen to interview with Bishop Kevin Doran, Elphin Diocese in Ireland

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09 July 2024, 14:31