LESSON 31 —Fifth Commandment
You shall not kill.
Read the following references to further clarify the central ideas of this lesson. Look in other places as well as these; this is not an exhaustive list of the resources needed to answer the questions.
Father Hardon’s Catholic Catechism
Pages 324-351 (Fifth Commandment)
Father Hardon’s Question and Answer Catechism
#466 (What is death?)
#628-692 (Fifth Commandment)
Revised Basic Course Manual
Page 19 (Loss of Preternatural Gifts)
Pages 71-77 (Fifth Commandment)
Pages 75-76 (Suicide)
Page 120 (The Theological Virtues)
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Catechism of the Catholic Church
#2258-2330 (The Fifth Commandment)
Father Hardon’s Pocket Catholic Catechism
Page 263 (Capital Punishment)
Modern Catholic Dictionary Vocabulary –
Review the following terms in your Modern Catholic Dictionary reference book (or online version at TheRealPresence.org – go to the bottom of the page, click on “Dictionary”).
Listed in Advanced Course Manual:
Alcoholism, Morality of
Drug Abuse, Morality of
Transplantation of Organs
Second Vatican Council:
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes) Blessed Paul VI, December 7, 1965.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
Declaration on Procured Abortion, 1974.
Declaration on Euthanasia, 1980.
Respect for Human Life,1987.
Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life),
by Saint John Paul II, 25 March 1995,
#15—“Threats which are no less serious hang over the incurably ill and the dying. In a social and cultural context which makes it more difficult to face and accept suffering, the temptation becomes all the greater to resolve the problem of suffering by eliminating it at the root, by hastening death so that it occurs at the moment considered most suitable.
“Various considerations usually contribute to such a decision, all of which converge in the same terrible outcome. In the sick person the sense of anguish, of severe discomfort, and even of desperation brought on by intense and prolonged suffering can be a decisive factor. Such a situation can threaten the already fragile equilibrium of an individual’s personal and family life, with the result that, on the one hand, the sick person, despite the help of increasingly effective medical and social assistance, risks feeling overwhelmed by his or her own frailty; and on the other hand, those close to the sick person can be moved by an understandable even if misplaced compassion. All this is aggravated by a cultural climate which fails to perceive any meaning or value in suffering, but rather considers suffering the epitome of evil, to be eliminated at all costs. This is especially the case in the absence of a religious outlook which could help to provide a positive understanding of the mystery of suffering.
“On a more general level, there exists in contemporary culture a certain Promethean attitude which leads people to think that they can control life and death by taking the decisions about them into their own hands. What really happens in this case is that the individual is overcome and crushed by a death deprived of any prospect of meaning or hope. We see a tragic expression of all this in the spread of euthanasia-disguised and surreptitious, or practised openly and even legally. As well as for reasons of a misguided pity at the sight of the patient’s suffering, euthanasia is sometimes justified by the utilitarian motive of avoiding costs which bring no return and which weigh heavily on society. Thus it is proposed to eliminate malformed babies, the severely handicapped, the disabled, the elderly, especially when they are not self-sufficient, and the terminally ill. Nor can we remain silent in the face of other more furtive, but no less serious and real, forms of euthanasia. These could occur for example when, in order to increase the availability of organs for transplants, organs are removed without respecting objective and adequate criteria which verify the death of the donor.”
#56—“This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God’s plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is “to redress the disorder caused by the offence”(CCC 2266) Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated (CCC 2266).
“It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.
“In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person” (CCC 2267).”
#57—“The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. ‘Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action’(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia, 1980).
“As far as the right to life is concerned, every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others. This equality is the basis of all authentic social relationships which, to be truly such, can only be founded on truth and justice, recognizing and protecting every man and woman as a person and not as an object to be used. Before the moral norm which prohibits the direct taking of the life of an innocent human being ‘there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the poorest of the poor on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal’(Veritatis Splendor #96).”
Explanation of “brain death”
Excerpt from Life Guardian Foundation booklet
(Revised Third Edition, September 2012) by Paul A. Byrne, M.D.
“Organs must be healthy to be transplanted. Healthy organs are taken from living donors. Every organ donor is living; after true death, organs are so damaged that they cannot be transplanted. . . .
“After circulation and respiration have stopped, within 4-5 minutes, the heart and liver are corrupted to such a degree that they are not suitable for transplantation. For kidneys this time is about 30 minutes. After true death; skin, bones, cornea, veins, heart valves and connective tissues can be transplanted. Note that these are tissues, not organs. . . .
“‘Brain death’ revolves around cessation of neurological functioning while heartbeat, circulation and respiration continue, although supported by a ventilator. ‘Brain death’ was concocted to get beating hearts for transplantation. The Harvard Criteria, developed in 1968, was the first set of criteria for determining ‘brain death’ in order to get beating hearts for transplantation. This is called donation by ‘brain death’ (DBD). Many more sets of criteria have been developed since then. A person can be declared ‘brain dead’ by one set but still be deemed alive by other sets. The declaration of ‘brain death’ legally is ‘in accordance with accepted medical standards’ (Uniform Determination of Death Act). ‘Major differences exist in brain death guidelines among the leading neurologic hospitals in the United States’ (Neurology January 2008).There is no consensus as to which set of criteria is used. Criteria to declare ‘brain death’ are not evidenced-based (Neurology July 2010). Thus, there are no ‘clearly determined parameters commonly held by the international scientific community, for the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity’ as postulated by Pope John Paul II (Address to International Congress of Transplantation Society, August 29, 2000) . . . .
“No one should be declared dead unless there is separation of the soul from the body. When this separation occurs, what is left is the remains, a cadaver, a corpse, an empty body. The absence of life in the remains is manifest by destruction, disintegration, dissolution and putrefaction. The minimal legal and medical requirement recommended for the protection of the life of unconscious, unresponsive persons ought to be: ‘No one shall be declared dead unless respiratory and circulatory systems and the entire brain have been destroyed.’ (Gonzaga Law Review 18/3, 429-516, 82/83 at 515). The separation of the soul is true death. When this occurs is God’s secret and one of the many mysteries we must defend by faith. We can know this only after it has occurred.”
Excerpt from Homiletic & Pastoral Review
“May We Donate Our Organs?” (October 29, 2014) by Drs. Jay Boyd and Paul A. Byrne. (www.hprweb.com)
“Our Faith tells us that the moment of separation of the soul from the body is the moment of true death (CCC §1005). Since we cannot observe the separation of the soul from the body, we must rely on other, visible means of determining death.
“There are a number of indisputable signs that death has occurred. After death, the body does not respond to stimuli, and it shows significant physical changes observable at the microscopic and gross levels of pathology, manifested by absence of functioning, and in structural alteration. These signs are sufficient to indicate that the life-body unity no longer exists. After death, these pathologic changes continue. They cannot be stopped—only slowed or delayed by cooling, embalming, mummifying, salting, etc.
“Prior to advances in organ transplantation, the definition of death was simple, direct, and sensible, as indicated in an article from the New England Journal of Medicine: ‘Before the development of modern critical care, the diagnosis of death was relatively straightforward. Patients were dead when they were cold, blue, and stiff.’
“But these observable signs are not the indications the medical community currently looks for, due to a “redefinition” of death over the last several decades—a redefinition that is due primarily to the fact that ‘organs from these traditional cadavers (i.e., those bodies that are cold, blue, and stiff, without circulation and respiration) cannot be used for transplantation.’ In order for organ transplantation to occur in a legitimately moral sense, death would have to be redefined and the law changed.
“Traditionally, the cessation of heartbeat and breathing were regarded as the signs of death. Black’s Law Dictionary defined death as: ‘The cessation of life; the ceasing to exist; defined by physicians as a total stoppage of the circulation of the blood, and a cessation of the animal and vital functions consequent thereon, such as respiration, pulsation, etc.’
“In contrast to the definition of a traditional cadaver, currently there are two basic criteria for determining death:
- a neurological criterion (in the USA: nonfunctioning of the whole brain, including the brain stem; in the UK: nonfunctioning of the brain stem); and
- a cardiopulmonary criterion (irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions).
“Let’s consider the cardiopulmonary criterion first. For the physical life of a person to continue, the person must take in oxygen, water, and nutrients. Carbon dioxide is exhaled and waste products are passed in urine and stool. Therefore, ventilation and respiration are required; ventilation is simply the movement of air, while respiration is the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs, and via circulation in all tissues. Heartbeat, or pulse, is intrinsic to the heart, which has its own nerves that cause heart muscle to contract and stop contracting; the heart beats without impulses from the brain.
“If breathing and circulation stop, chest compressions must be initiated quickly, in order for life to continue. Sometimes a ventilator, commonly mislabeled as a respirator, is used. Chest compressions and a ventilator can support respiration in a living person, but not in a cadaver. When such efforts at ventilation and respiration are successful, it is only because the person is living, not dead. In a dead body, air can be forced into the airways and lungs, and elastic recoil might push air out for a few cycles; but then compliance and elastance are lost, and air cannot get in or out. After true death, neither chest compressions, nor a ventilator, can be effective to support ventilation, respiration, and circulation.
“Without respiration and circulation, the health of the person deteriorates, and death will occur, unless breathing and circulation are restored quickly. This deterioration is manifest in cessation of vital activities and pathologic changes, such as disintegration, dissolution, lysis, destruction, corruption, decay, and putrefaction of cells and tissues of organs and systems. Thus, the truly dead body cannot be an organ donor, as the vital organs are quickly compromised and begin to deteriorate. On the other hand, a person whose vital organs are functioning, cannot be considered to be truly dead, according to the traditional definition. It is this fact that made it necessary to create a neurological criterion for death—which essentially changes the definition of death.
“The history of the ‘redefinition’ of death is rather chilling, when one considers that such redefinitions began evolving as organ transplants became more and more possible and successful. The redefinitions stem from a desire to make use of the organs of someone labeled as ‘recently deceased,’ in order to save the lives of living patients desirous of vital organs as transplants. But as we noted above, a truly deceased person cannot be a suitable organ donor, as his organs no longer have circulation and respiration.
“This is where—and why—the neurological definition of death—or ‘“brain death’—comes into play. A patient with heartbeat, respiration, and/or circulation cannot rightly be called a cadaver, a corpse, a dead body. Not coincidentally, prior to true death, patients are sometimes labeled ‘brain dead’ (or sometimes ‘apparently dead’ or ‘as good as dead’), especially when there is an interest in converting such patients into organ donors. If the label, ‘probably dead,’ or ‘apparently dead,’ (mors apparens) is applied to a potential donor who is not truly dead, he will certainly be truly dead after the beating heart is cut out! As we can see from the Catechism, to take action that will cause death, based on the mere probability that death is about to occur, is a violation of justice.
“[T]he organ transplant ‘industry’ has found words to obscure the real condition of donor patients; they have simply ‘redefined’ death (that is, they have changed the criteria to declare death) to suit their desires. These new ‘definitions of death’ are contortions of the truth.”
Excerpt from Catholic World Report
“Are Organ Transplants Ever Morally Licit?” (March 1, 2001) by Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz and Bishop Robert F. Vasa.
“On August 29, 2000. Pope John Paul II delivered an address to the XVIII International Congress of the Transplantation Society. While we are grateful for his teachings, we believe that certain points need further clarification.
“Some members of the medical profession have interpreted the Holy Father’s address as a tacit unconditional approval for organ transplantation. We believe this interpretation of the Pope’s teaching is profoundly wrong. In fact, we read the Pope’s address as a strong condemnation of the inhumane procedures and violations of natural moral law that presently occur with the transplantation of certain organs. We further argue that all men of good will must properly understand and explicitly follow the applicable theological and moral laws.
“These laws are:
- No unpaired vital organ can morally be removed from a living human person;
- There should be no commercial traffic in human organs;
- People – especially the young – must fully comprehend that when they agree to be organ donors, they give transplant surgeons a license to terminate their lives. . . .
“The donor is treated and prepared for surgery in a way similar to any other living patient going to the operating room. After the removal of healthy vital organs, what is left is an empty corpse. Such removal is ethically unacceptable. It is the removal of the organs that changes the living person to a dead one.
“Anyone familiar with the moment of death knows that once death has occurred, there is no more breathing, moving, grimacing, or squirming and that there is no longer a heartbeat or blood pressure. The argument of some physicians—that such movements in an organ donor are caused by “leftover energy” in the body—has no scientific validity. It is, therefore, unethical for transplantation surgeons to continue performing such procedures that mutilate a living human body. These procedures treat the donors as if they were artificially sustained biologic entities, rather than human persons worthy of dignity and respect. . . .
“‘To be properly informed,’ the consent offered by an organ donor must include proper education about the process whereby a vital organ is taken for transplantation. The donor should be aware that an unpaired organ (that is, a heart or whole liver—as opposed to one of two kidneys or a lobe of a liver, without which the donor can continue to live) is taken while his heart is still beating, and his circulation and respiration are normal. He should understand that his heart will be stopped just prior to its removal. He should understand that paralyzing drugs may be used to suppress his bodily reactions to the transplant procedure, and to ward off the possible objections of medical personnel who might wonder whether he is truly dead. Finally he should realize that the removal of a healthy unpaired vital organ suitable for transplantation from someone who has been legally declared ‘brain dead,’ but is not truly biologically dead, is not ethically acceptable. Again, evil may not be done that good might come of it. . . .
“The Holy Father clearly emphasizes the evil of intentionally causing death to the donor in disposing of his organs. Therefore, to sacrifice the life of a donor in order to obtain an organ for someone else violates the Fifth Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’. . .
“Pope John Paul II is pointing out that the signs of death ‘should not be understood as the technical-scientific determination of the exact moment’ of death, but that there are undeniable biological signs that appear after death has, in fact, taken place. We would add that the biological signs which should be observed before a declaration of death ought to include destruction of the circulatory and respiratory systems, as well as the neurological system.”. .
“In an address entitled ‘Brain Death & Euthanasia,’ Dr. Josef Seifert notes: ‘We must also remind ourselves of an empirical proof of the uncertainty of our knowledge concerning the time of death. Think of the life after life experiences of people who were declared clinically dead and still had all sorts of experiences associated with their body. Could not brain dead persons be in a similar state prior to the occurrence of actual death? The actions of organ-harvesting are based on the assumption that the event of death has occurred prior to a certain moment and can be determined with certainty by the medical profession before the natural phenomenon of death with all its obvious features has set in.’ Dr. Seifert continues: ‘Death in this classical sense does not just involve irreversible cardio-pulmonary arrest but is accompanied by the many other well-nigh indubitable signs: from the cessation of all vital functions to the frigor (coldness) of death to the rigor mortis of the corpse to the actual decomposition of the body. Even when faced with the whole body death, one should wait for some time after actual death sets in before one dissects a corpse.”