Nitschke has been nothing if not defiant, boasting that the publicity has sent ticket sales for his upcoming workshops soaring. The loss of his medical license will have no impact on his practice of promoting and aiding the commission of suicide because, after all, it’s not medical in nature (any more than abortion is a medical procedure no matter how vigorously the leadership of the AMA, ACOG, Planned Parenthood and the Administration defend it as such).
What does the Church teach about suicide?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2280-2283) states that we “are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of” (2280). Suicide “is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.”
The Church also recognizes that when suicide is the result of “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture,” responsibility can be diminished (2282) and that we “should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives” (2283). Rather, the Church prays for them.
These passages recognize that suicide is a grave wrong, while at the same time understanding that the suicidal intention is impulsive and results, in the great majority of cases, from psychological or emotional disturbances or from addiction … not rational decision-making.
The teachings of the Church, while based in natural law as well as Revelation, have proven inadequate to convince the general public that there are few or no circumstances under which suicide could be committed rationally.
Broadly acceptable acts some might call suicide
Three examples come to mind: When a solider in a war zone makes a split-second decision to fall on a grenade to save the lives of his buddies knowing that his death will result, we’d all agree that his is the ultimate act of heroism and not suicide per se.
Who can forget the poor souls who were stranded on the upper floors of the Twin Towers on 9/11, facing certain and imminent death by the approaching flames that engulfed the towers? Who could possibly fault them for jumping to their deaths instead of waiting to be burned alive?
Perhaps a bit too fanciful: The captured soldier or spy, undergoing torture to make him reveal secrets to the enemy that would cost innocent lives, knows that he can’t endure more suffering without giving in. He swallows a cyanide capsule to avoid putting the lives of others in danger. He sees it as a choice between a courageous death and cowardly survival. Many of us would agree.
But most of us are considerably less sympathetic when a wealthy but crooked Wall Street trader commits a "rational" suicide by overdosing on prescription meds to avoid public disgrace and jail time. As an unrepentant sinner and self-murderer, he risks his own salvation. Better to accept the consequences of his fraud, make restitution, repent and turn hs life around, to become an example to others of the pitfalls of greed and the transformative grace of God.
"Rational suicide" in the 21st century
The problem today is that principles of autonomy and libertarianism are replacing the values of solidarity and sacrifice, shared moral norms and the common good, precisely at a time when the populations of industrialized nations are largely becoming morally weak, self-indulgent pleasure-seekers for whom the only real sin is to suffer and suffering includes any type of self-denial.