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Church Teaching on Life Issues

Brief summaries of the church teaching on various life topics are given below. For more detailed discussion, see the Life Issues section of the web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/


The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "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" (No. 2271).    See also Quotes from Church documents on defending human life  from the USCCB.

Women who have had abortions are invited to experience healing and forgiveness through Project Rachel.  Confidential calls are taken at 713-741-8728.  A prayer booklet for post-abortive women is available here.

Conscience and the Catholic Voter:

"Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere 'feeling' about what we should do or should not do. ...  Catholics has a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the church."  (from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, no 17).   Intrinsically evil actions (such as abortion) "must always be rejected and opposed, and must never be supported or condoned. (Faithful Citizenship, no 22.)  See pdf of Conscience and the Catholic voter and the longer documents, How To Vote Catholic, and Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship

Contraception (Birth Control): 

"...the mutual gift of fertility is an integral part of the bonding power of marital intercourse.  ...  Suppressing fertility by using contraception denies part of the inherent meaning of married sexuality and does harm to the couple’s unity."  from "Married Love and the Gift of Life".  A short summary (2 pages) of the church's teaching is available to read or download here, or in Spanish here.   A brochure on Contraception is available here.  
      An additional point to be aware of is that hormonal contraception and IUDs can act not only to prevent conception, but to end the life of a newly conceived child by preventing implantation.  Pharmaceutical companies define pregnancy as beginning at implantation, and market the products as purely preventative, but in fact fertilization can take place, so that a new life is begun, but that new life is ended by the inability to implant in the womb to receive nutrition from the mother.

Death Penalty:  

"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 nonexistent" (Evangelium Vitae, 56, emphasis added).  Every offender still deserves respect as a person, and ending the offender's life deprives him of the time he may need to repent and change.   See also "Life Matters: the Death Penalty"  bulletin insert from the USCCB.

Euthanasia/ Assisted Suicide/ End of Life Care:

The desire to alleviate suffering does not justify the taking of life.  "Euthanasia and assisted suicide can appear a reasonable and even compassionate solution to the suffering of individuals and families struggling with illness or the dying process. Yet these are not real solutions—they do not solve human problems, but only take the lives of those most in need of unconditional love."  from the USCCB Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities 

"More and more lonely elderly people exist in big cities, even in situations of serious illness and close to death. In such situations, the pressure of euthanasia is felt, especially when a utilitarian vision of the person creeps in. In this regard, I take this opportunity to reaffirm once again the firm and constant ethical condemnation of every form of direct euthanasia, in accordance with the Church's centuries-old teaching."   Pope Benedict XVI (Address to the Pontifical Academy for Life Congress on the theme: "Close by the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects" (February 25, 2008).

A general guideline for end of life care is that pain should be alleviated as much as possible, and consciousness should generally be preserved to allow the person to prepare for death.  The administration of food and water is a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act, and should never be withheld in order to cause death.  When death is near and a person is no longer able to assimilate food and water, it is not necessary to provide assisted nutrition and hydration.  Free consultation on end-of-life care is available 24/7 from the National Catholic Bioethics Center at 215-877-2660. (www.ncbcenter.org) 

For brochure Life Matters: At the End of Our Days  click English or Spanish


The church teaches that people who are afflicted with same-sex attraction should be treated with respect and compassion, but are called to chastity and holiness, as we all are.  Homosexual acts are "contrary to natural law....Under no circumstances can they be approved." (click here for CCC 2357-2359 on homosexuality, and here for "Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Orientation" from the USCCB.)  In our diocese, support is offered to people suffering with this cross, and their familiies, through organizations called Courage and Encourage.  Click here for the Courage brochure.

     For the brochure The Difference is the Difference:  Sexual Difference and the Defense of Marriage, click here.

In Vitro Fertilization:

"The Church teaches that two fundamental values must be respected when seeking to conceive a child: the dignity of the child conceived and the meaning of marriage."1 The practice of IVF involves the production of "extra" embryos, which are either discarded, donated to others, or frozen.  Such treatments are not in keeping with the dignity of the human person.

"In reality, the origin of a human person is the result of an act of giving. The one conceived must be the fruit of his parents' love. He cannot be desired or conceived as the product of an intervention of medical or biological techniques; that would be equivalent to reducing him to an object of scientific technology." 2   See also the pamphlet from the USCCB:  Life Matters: Reproductive Technology  in English or Spanish

  1. Life Issues and Medical Choices: Questions and Answers for Catholics, by Janet E. Smith and Christopher Kaczor, Servant Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-86716-808-2.  The statement is referenced to Donum Vitae. 

  2. Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life), 1987, from the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, available at


Stem Cell Research and Cloning:  

A stem cell is a cell that is capable of both reproducing itself and making different kinds of specialized cells. Such cells have many potential uses in medicine to replace specialized tissues that are damaged or diseased.  In the past it was thought that young embryos were the only source of cells capable of differentiating into all the different cell types of the human body.  With the practice of In Vitro Fertilization, "extra" human embryos became available for research.  When stem cells are harvested from the embryo, the embryo dies.  This of course, is the moral issue. In the case of stem cell research,  “the killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act” (Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life [Evangelium Vitae], no. 63).

Moreover, it has more recently been found that stem cells can be obtained from umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, and other tissues.  These cells are referred to as "adult" stem cells, and there is no ethical problem with their use.  Adult stem cells have in fact actually been used successfully in clinical trials to help patients.  A method has also been recently developed to easily produce stem cells from ordinary adult skin cells.  These cells can therefore be formed from each patient's own skin, yielding tissue genetically identical to his or her own body.  The use of these more versatile cells still presents problems for clinical use, but they are the same problems as are also presented by embryonic stem cells.  In spite of the availability of these non-problematic sources of stem cells, some researchers continue to advocate for the use of embryonic stem cells. 

Cloning is another way to produce human embryos, simply for the purpose of harvesting their stem cells, rather than obtaining embryos created by the process of IVF.  While many people object to cloning human beings for reproductive purposes, the process of creating embryos for the purpose of research is referred to as "clone and kill."   The bishops of the United States, in their statement "On Embryonic Stem Cell Research" say, "As believers who recognize each human life as the gift of an infinitely loving God, we insist that every human being, however small or seemingly insignificant, matters to God—hence everyone, no matter how weak or small, is of concern to us."   A human being is a human being is a human being.  However a human being comes into existence, the gift of life is a gift from God, and must be respected.  The church therefore obviously condemns the practice of cloning human embryos for the sole purpose of destroying them.

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