Praised be Jesus Christ!
Occasionally I get asked the question about what the Church really teaches about suicide. This question seems to be gaining increasing relevance. I recently came across an article that reported statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control. According to the CDC, between 1999 and 2014 there has been a 24% increase in the nation’s suicide rate, with 42,773 people ending their lives in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999. Most notably during that 15-year period, the suicide rate for girls age 10 to 14 had tripled, as well as there being a 63% increase for women ages 45 to 64.
Typically, factors leading someone to choose to end their life might include biological predispositions to serious depression, personality disorders, or environmental factors such as abuse or neglect. In addition to these factors, some researchers suspect the increased rate of suicide might also be influenced by digital communications, which may be transforming social attitudes about suicide. Researchers also suggest that there may be more factors in our country today that lead people to feel socially isolated, without hope and without options. These are just a few resources on suicide prevention and support for families of victims of suicide: Suicide Prevention Resource Center – sprc.org; Allianceofhope.org; Suicide.org
The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers very clear teaching about suicide:
2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.
2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.
2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law. Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.
It used to be that the Church’s Code of Canon Law mentioned suicide as an impediment to receiving Catholic funeral rites and burial. Such impediments would be applicable if they involved some sort of a denial of the Faith and/or there was no sign of repentance before death. Suicide was removed as an impediment in the Church’s revision of the law due to the teaching in the paragraph above about the importance of praying for those who have taken their lives, not despairing of their eternal salvation, but trusting in God’s great mercy and perfect judgment.