Swiss bishop says priests must not allow assisted suicide patients last rites

(Photo: Reuters / Thomas Peter)Activists carry placards during a protest against a proposed amendment of a German law about medically assisted suicide in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin November 29, 2012. The German parliament is due to debate on Thursday an amendment to paragraph 217 of the criminal code that deals with euthanasia, drawing criticism of activists, who say the proposed changes signify a concealed move towards legalising medically assisted suicide, a press release issued by the organisers of the protest said. The placards read: "Lonely," "Demented," "Suffering from eating disorders," "Ill."

The bishop of Chur in Switzerland has told priests not to allow those seeking assisted suicide the last rites.

Bishop Vitus Huonder made his comments in a pastoral message for Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, and his message comes at a time that the number of euthanasia deaths in Switzerland has risen by more than one third in 2015.

Huonder said, "The readiness of a suffering patient to commit suicide with help from a bystander places any priest in an impossible situation if called to administer sacraments," Premier News reports.

"Under such conditions, their reception is impossible - all a priest can do is offer a prayer of intercession and commend the dying to God's mercy."

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The last rites are the final prayers and ministrations given to many Catholics when possible shortly before death.

Bishop Huonder notedthat the teaching of the Church is clear on euthanasia and that medical treatment should not "impair the natural process of dying."

"But from a Christian viewpoint, life and death are in God's hands - we do not decide about them for ourselves," he said, "suicide, like murder, contradicts the divine world order."

Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland and the German language national daily newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported that it has noticeably increased in recent years.

The newspaper cited 999 euthanasia deaths as legally recorded in 2015, up 35 percent from the previous year, reporting that a "change of values in society" has made the practice "a new normality."

"Medicine's modern possibilities have made us increasingly dependent, especially if no longer capable of judgment, on qualified persons in the last stage of our existence," said Bishop Huonder, who is also apostolic administrator of Zurich, Catholic News Service reported.

He said, "But from a Christian viewpoint, life and death are in God's hands - we do not decide about them for ourselves. Suicide, like murder, contradicts the divine world order."

Catholics account for some 38 per cent of Switzerland's 8.1 million inhabitants, with Protestants making up some 29 percent and other Christians making up for around 5.6 percent.

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