Suicide (from Latin sui = yourself and caedere = to kill) is commonly understood as the intentional self-homicide of a person. Even though the European Court of Justice accepts the intentional homicide of oneself as a human right, the Catholic Church views it as fundamentally contradicting the laws of God, who alone is the sovereign Lord over death and life.
What does the Bible say?
In the Old Testament, blood signifies the sanctity and inviolability of human life. To shed your own or someone else's blood violates God's own property: "And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. 'Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image'" (Gen 9:5-6). The Fifth Commandment also makes clear that God alone is the Lord over life and death: "You shall not murder" (Ex 20:13). This commandment includes: "Murder and acting as an accomplice to murder are forbidden. Killing unarmed civilians during a war is forbidden. The abortion of a human being, from the moment of conception on, is forbidden. Suicide, self-mutilation, and self-destructive behavior are forbidden. Euthanasia - killing the handicapped, the sick, and the dying - is also forbidden." (YOUCAT 379). The Church has also always regarded suicide as being in opposition to Jesus' command to love, which especially stressed the importance of loving yourself as well: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27).
A short YOUCAT-Catechesis
Yes, you can.
There are not many comforting messages for those relatives of someone who killed himself. But this is one. YOUCAT 288 says: "Man is responsible for everything he does consciously and voluntarily. No one can be held (fully) responsible for something he did under coercion, out of fear, ignorance, under the influence of drugs or the power of bad habits." Today we know that no one truly commits suicide freely. The psychiatrist Manfred Lütz once noted: "It is a sickness that drives the patient into death. Suicide is the deathly end of a depression — similarly as a deathly asthma attack can be the end of a sickness. No one is guilty of being sick in that way."
It was about time that the Church distanced herself from a resolution that lasted for over fourteen hundred years: In 561, the Council of Braga (561) prohibited those who commited suicide from receiving a formal funeral. In 860, Pope Nikolas I. called suicide a mortal sin, and those who committed it were to expect eternal damnation. Thank goodness that the Church understands the turmoil of the human soul better today. Objectively, no one is allowed to kill himself whatever the circumstances may be. Subjectively, it is true what Pope Francis never tires to stress: "We are in need of two things the most nowadays: Mercy and once more mercy!"
One Side of the Coin
One side of the coin is the Fifth Commandment: " You shall not murder."
We cannot compromise this commandment at all. YOUCAT 379 expounds on this commandment: "Murder and acting as an accomplice to murder are forbidden. Killing unarmed civilians during a war is forbidden. The abortion of a human being, from the moment of conception on, is forbidden. Suicide, self-mutilation, and self-destructive behavior are forbidden. Euthanasia - killing the handicapped, the sick, and the dying - is also forbidden." Today, many believe we should rewrite the Catechism. More and more nations permit the suicide type of euthanasia (the homicide of a suffering person upon his or her own desire). If you were to ask a random person walking by: "Is it not a fundamental right of every human being to be sovereign over one's own life?" most would certainly agree. Some modern writers even view suicide as the ultimate expression of human freedom: "If I want, I can wipe out my own existence." This kind of propaganda is truly from the evil one, because it could even lead psychologically damaged people to do something quite horrible to themselves.
The crazy Quest for Life
Lets look for a moment at the dramatic life of an alcoholic. Intuitively, we know: It is now a sign of freedom if someone drinks himself to death. Quite on the contrary, we regard it as a sign of an extreme lack of freedom! And if a young woman harms herself by cutting herself, we cannot really say that this is expressing her freedom. Everyone will say: "How could it get that far? How miserable must she be, if she is destroying herself? How can we save her from herself?" Someone is desperately searching for life and, in doing so, harming himself. How can you explain this fact?
Deep down inside, we have an insatiable desire for happinness and life. Rejecting the pursuit of happiness is something that you simply cannot do. The philosopher Robert Spaemann once said that we cannot even desire, not desiring to desire. This is how deeply life is looking to live life deep inside of us. Sometimes people addictively search for life and risk it all, just to quench their insatiable thirst. Even someone who wants to throw himself from a bridge is hoping to find "happiness" by this act.
There is a love that remains when we no longer love ourselves
Human beings are radically searching for happiness. But God is way more radical. "God loves us far more than we love ourselves," Saint Teresa of Avila once said. God's interest in myself is a billion times deeper than my own interest in myself. I could throw myself away. God could never do so. In the Book of Isaiah, God says: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine" (Is 43:1). And even more, he says: "Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life" (Is 43:4). Because we are not safe with ourselves, God makes clear what the property rights are. He makes clear that he loves us even deeper and cares for us more thoroughly in a way that protects us from ourselves in a way that we could never manage alone. YOUCAT 383 says: "God alone is Lord over life and death. Not even “my” life belongs to me.“
We should also be aware of this fact: God does not gift us with life in a way that one would lend a student driver a Ferrari, only to look for scratches afterwards. He really gives it to us. We are free to do with it as we please. But would we really destroy this incredible gift, after recognizing it as a true sign of his love?
Nothing protects a person tempted by suicide better than this assurance: There is someone who loves me, who needs me and for whom I hold great significance. And maybe we can find God in a poem of Berthold Brecht: "He who loves me told me that he needs me. This is why I take care of myself, look how I walk and am afraid of every raindrop that it should not slay me." ∎