When is it Permissible to Withdraw Life Support? (The Patrick Madrid Show)

It can be confusing to understand what actually constitutes euthanasia.

Patrick dives into a profound discussion with 16-year-old Elizabeth from Minnesota about the intricacies of euthanasia, life support, and the principle of double effect, all through the lens of Catholic moral theology.

Elizabeth, curious and concerned, asks about the Church’s stance on euthanasia and the moral implications of withdrawing life support. Patrick clarifies that the Church vehemently opposes euthanasia as it involves intentionally ending an innocent life, categorizing it as a grave sin.

The conversation deepens as Elizabeth wonders about the morality of discontinuing artificial life support for someone unlikely to recover. Here, Patrick introduces the concept of “ordinary” vs. “extraordinary” means of sustaining life. He explains that while ordinary means (like feeding and hydration) must always be provided if the patient can physically tolerate them, extraordinary means (like a ventilator) may be ethically withdrawn if they no longer contribute to the recovery or the continuation of life.

Enter the principle of double effect, a crucial element in Catholic moral reasoning that Patrick lays out. This principle helps distinguish actions with dual outcomes—where one is intended and ethical, while the other, although foreseen, is unintended. For instance, removing a life support machine is intended to cease the intervention that prolongs dying, not to cause death itself.

Patrick uses the example of an ectopic pregnancy to further illustrate this principle. In such cases, removing the affected fallopian tube to save the mother’s life, though it results in the loss of the baby in the womb, is morally permissible because the death of the little child is not the intended effect.

👉 Key Takeaways:

  • Euthanasia and Intentional Killing: Always immoral as they involve the direct intention to end life.
  • Withdrawing Life Support: Can be moral if it constitutes an extraordinary means and death is not the intended outcome.
  • Principle of Double Effect: Allows for actions that have both a positive intended effect and an unintended negative consequence, under specific conditions.

If you’re intrigued by the nuances of moral theology, Patrick recommends the book Life Issues, Medical Choices which explores these topics in greater depth.

Jake Moore serves as a Digital Audio Content Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is passionate about classic movies, Christian music, young adult ministry, and leading this generation to Christ through compelling media. You can listen to more of his podcasts at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.