Re: Suicide

Wed, 26 Oct 1994 18:32:44 EDT

On Wed, 26 Oct 1994 08:58:25 -0400 Janet Gillis said:
>I heard once that starvation is the only *acceptable* form of suicide in
>the Catholic church (i.e., not a mortal sin), because of the suffering
>involved, or some such logic. I know that the concept of suicide is a BAD
>thing, but is there such a "loophole"?

I think what you're looking for it the Catholic Church's statement on hunger
strikes (as practiced in British-occupied Northern Ireland). Hunger
strikes are essentially a combined protest/extortion, aimed at a specific
person or group. By taking an action that will eventually result in death,
the hunger-striker is seeking to force that person to deal with a specified

The Church has proclaimed that hunger-striking is NOT suicide, because death
is not the desired goal of a hunger-striker. Rather, they are *risking* death
in order to reach another goal, and taking such a risk in not suicide. The
Church has compared such risking to being a soldier, in that soldiers may
enter a situation that might (or even probably) kill them, even if they don't
want to die. Saintly marytrdom is something similar--saints don't want to
die, it's a risk/side-effect of other actions.

Starving oneself with the expressed intent to die (regardless of other's
intervention) is still suicide in the eyes of the Church, and is not approved.

That's the explanation as I learned it from my undergraduate advisor (Seamus
Metress, University of Toledo) and confirmed by the instructors of a Catholic
Thought class. (Ah, the good old days, when I had the time to take classes
outside my department....)

Michael Bauser <mbauser@kentvm.bitnet or>
Dept. of Anthropology, Kent State University, Kent OH 44242, USA