Excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic
Church on Life, Abortion, and Euthanasia (#2258-2262; 2268-2279)
THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT
Respect for Human Life
The Witness of Sacred History
You shall not kill.
You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill: and
whoever kills shall be liable to judgement.' But I say to you that every one who
is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement.
2258 'Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves
the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship
with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its
beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the
right directly to destroy an innocent human being.'
1. Respect for Human Life
The witness of sacred history
2259 In the account of Abel's murder by his brother Cain,
(57) Scripture reveals the presence of anger and envy in man, consequences
of original sin, from the beginning of human history. Man has become the enemy
of his fellow man. God declares the wickedness of this fratricide: 'What have
you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And
now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your
brother's blood from your hand.' (58)
2260 The covenant between God and mankind is interwoven with reminders
of God's gift of human life and man's murderous violence:
For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning... Whoever sheds the
blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own
The Old Testament always considered blood a sacred sign of life.
(60) This teaching remains necessary for all time.
2261 Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth
commandment: 'Do not slay the innocent and the righteous.'
(61) The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the
dignity of the human being, to the golden rule and to the holiness of the
Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and
everyone, always and everywhere.
2262 In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment,
'You shall not kill' (62) and adds to it the proscription
of anger, hatred and vengeance. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn
the other cheek, to love their enemies. (63) He did not
defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath.(64)
2268 The fifth commandment forbids direct and intentional killing as
gravely sinful. The murderer and those who co-operate voluntarily in murder
commit a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance.
Infanticide, (69) fratricide, parricide and the
murder of a spouse are especially grave crimes by reason of the natural
bonds which they break. Concern for eugenics or public health cannot justify
any murder, even if commanded by public authority.
2269 The fifth commandment forbids doing anything with the intention
of indirectly bringing about a person's death. The moral law prohibits exposing
someone to mortal danger without grave reason, as well as refusing assistance to
a person in danger.
The acceptance by human society of murderous famines, without efforts to
remedy them, is a scandalous injustice and a grave offence. Those whose
usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren
in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to
Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is
not exonerated from grave offence if, without proportionate reasons, one
has acted in a way that brings about someone's death, even without the intention
to do so.
2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the
moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must
be recognized as having the rights of a person -- among which is the inviolable
right of every innocent being to life.(71)
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I
consecrated you. (72)
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately wrought in the depths of the earth .(73)
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of
every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.
Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is
gravely contrary to the moral law:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn
to perish .(74)
God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of
safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of
themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of
conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.(75)
2272 Formal co-operation in an abortion constitutes a grave offence.
The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime
against human life. 'A person who procures a completed abortion incurs
excommunication latae sententiae' (76) 'by the very commission of the offence',
(77) and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law .
(78) The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of
mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the
irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the
parents and the whole of society.
2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual
is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:
'The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and
respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights
depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a
concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and
are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the
person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in
this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from
the moment of conception until death.'(79)
'The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the
protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is
denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place
its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of
the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are
undermined. . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be
ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must
provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the
child's rights.' (80)
2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be
defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any
other human being.
Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, 'if it respects the life and
integrity of the embryo and the human foetus and is directed toward its
safeguarding or healing as an individual... It is gravely opposed to the moral
law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion,
depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death
2275 'One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human
embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve
disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing, the
improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.'
'It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as
disposable biological material.' (83)
'Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are
not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to
sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the
personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity'
(84) which are unique and unrepeatable.
2276 Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect.
Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as
2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an
end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. It is morally
Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in
order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the
dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his
Creator. The error of judgement into which one can fall in good faith does not
change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and
2278 Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous,
extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it
is the refusal of 'over-zealous' treatment. Here one does not will to cause
death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be
made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally
entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests
must always be respected.
2279 Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a
sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to
alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their
days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as
either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable.
Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be
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54. Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17.
55. Mt 5:21-22.
56. CDF, Instruction Donum vitae, intro. 5.
57. Cf. Gen 4:8-12.
58. Gen 4:10-11.
59. Gen 9:5-6.
60. Cf. Lev 17:14.
62. Mt 5:21.
63. Cf Mt 5:22-39, 44.
64. Cf. Mt 26:52
68. Cf Gen 4:10.
69. Cf. GS 51 § 3.
70. Cf. Am 8:4-10.
71. Cf CDF, Donum vitae I,1.
72. Jer 1:5; cf Job 10:8-12; Ps 22:10-1 1.
73. Ps. 139:15.
74. Didache 2, 2: SCh 248, 148; cf Ep.Barnabae 19, 5: PG
2, 777; Ad Diognetum 5, 6: PG 2, 1173; Tertullian, Apol. 9: PL 1,371.
75. GS 51 § 3.
76. CIC, can. 1398.
77. CIC, can. 1314.
78. Cf. CIC, cann. 1323-1324.
79. CDF, Donum vitae III.
80. CDF, Donum vitae III.
81. CDF, Donum vitae I,2.
82. CDF, Donum vitae I,3.
83. CDF, Donum vitae I,5.
84. CDF, Donum vitae I,6.
More Teachings of the Magisterium on Life