THE MORALITY OF MERCIFULLY ACTUATED DEATH: A CRITICAL THEOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CATHOLIC TEACHING AND IMPLICATIONS OF THE DEBATE FOR MORAL METHODOLOGY

A. REGINA HALL, Marquette University

Abstract

This study was undertaken to re-evaluate the western Church's prohibition of mercy killing. Because of a variety of new realities which today bear upon the subject, many persons of good will argue that mercy killing is no longer immoral. Mercy killing is here defined as "mercifully actuated death", or the active inducement of the dying process for reasons of charity toward the person whose life will be terminated. Chapter one comprises a selective history of the Christian tradition, as it is traced from its Hellenistic and Judaic cultural roots to the present. Emphasis is upon the fact that an absolute prohibition of suicide and of mercy death is not to be found in either tradition. Further, Christian teaching regarding mercy killing appears subject to some vagaries of history extraneous to the teaching itself. Attention is also given to a minority tradition which persisted alongside the traditional Church teaching, with the result that this teaching is not as monolithic as was once supposed. Chapter two examines the roles that a variety of moral categories have played in the Church's prohibition of mercy killing. It presents the current appraisal of these categories by a significant number of contemporary moral theologians and ethicists. The purpose here is to determine whether or not these moral tools, as appreciated by contemporary thought, still support the traditional prohibitive teaching against mercy killing. The third chapter offers reflection and critical commentary upon the material presented in chapters one and two. The insights gathered in this section indicate that the teaching concerning the immorality of mercy killing within the Christian moral tradition can no longer be supported by the moral categories from the manualist tradition with their limited insight into the structure of the human act. Further, the static concept of natural law which was intrinsic to much of the Catholic moral tradition is no longer considered viable. The fourth chapter concludes to a two part thesis: (1) mercifully actuated death is not immoral per se, but (2) it is immoral per accidens, at least for the United States. The judgment that mercifully actuated death is not per se immoral is deduced from several conclusions which are seen as a set of converging probabilities and hence, together present a strong argument against the current teaching. The judgment that it is immoral per accidens is deduced from the fact that American culture harbors a number of social factors which militate against a truly Christian application of mercifully actuated death. These factors are enumerated. A conclusion outlines the parameters within which the entire study is located and indicates areas which may be developed in the future.

Recommended Citation

A. REGINA HALL, "THE MORALITY OF MERCIFULLY ACTUATED DEATH: A CRITICAL THEOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CATHOLIC TEACHING AND IMPLICATIONS OF THE DEBATE FOR MORAL METHODOLOGY" (January 1, 1980). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI8104804.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI8104804

Share

COinS