THE PRIMARY MORAL DUTY OF KEEPING ONESELF ALIVE
As Catholics we perceive this duty as part of our relationship to God as the Creator and the Giver of Life. Our very life itself is a gift of God. We are but stewards of this life: we are not the owners.
The life of charity includes the charity that we owe to ourselves (caritas sui in Latin, “charityto-oneself”). We owe it to ourselves to keep ourselves alive by proper care of our body’s needs and not to foolishly put that life at risk. (For example, thrill-seekers who participate in extreme sports where there is a high risk of serious injury or death are violating this primary moral duty to keep oneself alive.) If we fall seriously ill, we are morally bound to seek remedy by the ordinary means at hand.
We are strictly forbidden to take our own lives by suicide. In a culture such as ours where there is a wide permission given for suicide as an expression of the autonomy of self it is very important for us as Catholics to be reminded that suicide is a grave sin against the Fifth Commandment Thou shalt not kill. It is selfmurder.
In the Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find this definition of suicide:
SUICIDE: The willful taking of one’s own life, a grievous sin against the Fifth Commandment. A human person is neither the author nor the supreme arbiter of his life, of which God is the Sovereign Master.
In the body of the Catechism we find the teaching against suicide spelled out.
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. (PAR 2280)
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. (PAR 2281)
This does not mean, however, that subjective states of mind cannot mitigate the guilt of suicide in particular cases. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church also clarifies:
Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. (PAR 2282)
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. (PAR 2283)
If in times past the Church refused public funeral rites for suicides and forbade their burial in consecrated ground it was in large part an effort at deterrence for others. This is no longer the case. Now we emphasize the riches of Divine Mercy and there are even prayers in the revised funeral rites specific to those who have died by suicide.
Nonetheless, we need to be crystal clear in our own minds of the wrongness of suicide.