Death, Suicide, and Euthanasia    

Grisez’s first work on human life and death was his 1970 book, Abortion: The Myths, the Realities, and the Arguments,which is listed with related works on a separate page. The works listed below deal with suicide, euthanasia, and human death in general.



“Suicide and Euthanasia”    

After publishing his book on abortion, Grisez participated in establishing Americans United for Life, an organization to defend human life and promote sound prolife legislation. The organization included scholars and other professionals of diverse religions and none. Among those involved were Dennis J. Horan, an attorney, and David Mall, an educator and specialist in rhetoric. Planning a volume to educate the public about assisted suicide and euthanasia, the two enlisted Grisez to contribute a philosophical chapter on the ethical and legal issues.

While working on this project, Grisez first began to understand accurately the distinction between what agents intend and what they accept as side effects. His earlier efforts to explain that distinction involved serious mistakes. Even his treatment of the distinction in this chapter required development and refinement, which culminated in an article he coauthored with John Finnis and Joseph Boyle: “ ‘Direct’ and ‘Indirect’: A Reply to Critics of Our Action Theory.” However, Grisez’s work on this article on suicide and euthanasia led directly to his work with Joseph Boyle on the book next listed.

“Suicide and Euthanasia” is copyright © University Publications of America, Inc. 1977, all rights reserved.

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Life and Death with Liberty and Justice:    
A Contribution to the Euthanasia Debate

While working on “Suicide and Euthanasia,” during 1975–76, Grisez became convinced that the movement to legalize euthanasia would quickly grow powerful and that those opposed to legalizing such killing would need cogent arguments against it. With the indispensable help of Joseph Boyle, Grisez therefore began early in 1976 to analyze the many distinct but interrelated issues that would be involved in the debate over euthanasia, and as he researched the issues, Boyle and he worked out the needed arguments. By the end of the summer of 1977, Grisez had completed the research; he and Boyle had completed outlining the book; and so Grisez was able to begin drafting it.

While Grisez’s work went well and Boyle did his part in moving the project along, the 1978 spring semester was nearing its end by the time they had a mutually satisfactory manuscript. Since the two would soon be working on Grisez’s moral theology project, there was no time to obtain comments from other scholars and do a second draft, which would have greatly improved the book.

Jeannette Grisez quickly produced a fair copy, and before the Grisezs packed up to move from Canada in May 1978, they sent the manuscript to John Ehman, the Editor at University Of Notre Dame Press. When the galleys arrived for proofreading, the Grisezs were working overtime on the moral theology project. So, they read the proofs only once, quickly. As a result, this book is the least carefully prepared of anything Grisez published. It is marred by a greater proportion of obvious defects than any other publication of his except for two brief items that were poorly handled by careless editors who also failed to send proofs to the Grisezs.

More important, in this book are the first treatments of many questions Grisez eventually treated in chapters eight and eleven of The Way of the Lord Jesus, volume two, Living a Christian Life; and in some of the questions in volume three, Difficult Moral Questions. On matters dealt with in both Life and Death and the later, theological volumes, the later treatments are superior for several reasons: (1) some erroneous positions taken in Life and Death—most notably, regarding the obligation to continue feeding and hydrating permanently comatose patients—were corrected in the later works; (2) the later works benefited from the data of faith; (3) Grisez’s work in ethical theory developed and become more consistent; (4) drafts of the later works were circulated for comments and were used as texts in courses, and were revised repeatedly; (5) the volumes of The Way of the Lord Jesus benefited from Russell Shaw’s extensive editing; and (6) in preparing those volumes for publication, Germain and Jeannette Grisez took advantage of computerized word processing, took their time, and exercised great care.

The movement to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia has developed far more slowly than Grisez and Boyle expected. Their research for this book, which ended in July 1977, is hardly up to date. Even with the defects already pointed out, however, someone who shares their prolife stance and takes due care will find some of their analyses and arguments still useful, or, at least, suggestive of ways of proceeding.

Life and Death with Liberty and Justice is copyright © 1979, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana 46556; all rights reserved and is republished here by permission.

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Open Chapter 4: The Liberty to Refuse Medical Treatment (PDF)

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Open Chapter 6: Voluntary Active Euthanasia and Liberty (PDF)

Open Chapter 7: Killing Which Is Considered Justified (PDF)

Open Chapter 8: Nonvoluntary Euthanasia and Justice (PDF)

Open Chapter 9: Justice and Care for the Noncompetent (PDF)

Open Chapter 10: The Constitution, Life, Liberty, and Justice (PDF)

Open Chapter 11: Theories of Ethics (PDF)

Open Chapter 12: Moral Responsibilities towards Human Life (PDF)

Open Chapter 13:
Justice and the Ethical Foundations of Jurisprudence

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“The Definability of the Proposition: The Intentional Killing of an    
Innocent Human Being Is Always Grave Matter

In 1984, Grisez and others were invited by Msgr. Carlo Caffarra, head of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, and Rev. Ignacio Carrasco, Dean of the Roman Academic Center of the Holy Cross, to help plan an international congress on moral theology to be cosponsored by their institutions and held in Rome in 1986. The planning group met in Pamplona, Spain, for several days in March 1985. Grisez was invited to give a paper, and agreed to treat Catholic teaching on the inviolability of innocent life.

Grisez delivered his paper to a plenary session of the Congress on 9 April 1986. In it he argued that sacred Scripture and the Church’s constant and very firm teaching together attest to a moral absolute concerning the killing of the innocent. This moral absolute can be formulated: The intentional killing of an innocent human being is always grave matter. The whole Church in the past has accepted and handed on this moral absolute as an essential requirement of Christian life. Therefore, the universal, ordinary magisterium has already infallibly proposed its judgment on this matter. Since this judgment has been proposed infallibly, it could be solemnly defined. Grisez concluded that it is now opportune to define this judgment solemnly in order to curb existing dissent, to mitigate the harm to souls present confusion is causing, and to save some innocent persons’ lives that will otherwise be destroyed.

The paper was well received, and many participants in the Congress subscribed to a petition to Pope John Paul II, asking him to act on the matter. Subsequently, an inquiry was carried out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the decision made not to define the proposition, but instead to prepare a papal encyclical dealing with innocent human life. The eventual result was the 1995 encyclical, Evangelium vitae, 57, in which John Paul affirmed that the inviolability of innocent human life had been taught—but only implicitly, though clearly, affirmed that it had been infallibly taught—by the ordinary and universal magisterium. The paper is copyright © Città Nuova Editrice 1987, all rights reserved.

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“Death in Theological Reflection”    

In 1998, Grisez was invited by Most Rev. Elio Sgreccia, Vice-President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, to serve as an academic peritus for the Fifth Assembly of the Academy: The Dignity of the Dying Person. Grisez agreed to prepare a paper on the theology of death, and made two brief trips to Rome to participate in preparatory meetings on 27 June and 26 September 1998. He delivered a synopsis of his paper at a session in the old synod hall in the Vatican on 24 February 1999, and provided copies of the complete study to Academy members. The paper is copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2000, all rights reserved.

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“Total Brain Death: A Reply to Alan Shewmon”    

In April 2008, Grisez and Patrick Lee participated in a two-day Westchester Institute Scholars Forum, “When Do We Die? Brain Death and the Debate over the End of Life,” in Washington, D.C. Dr. Shewmon circulated in advance a paper showing that total brain death need not result in the rapid disintegration of the entire body. Discussing Shewmon’s paper before coming to the Forum, Grisez and Peter Ryan, S.J., arrived prepared to argue that, assuming the entire brain has died, an apparently surviving individual is no longer a person but only subpersonal remains. During the meeting, Patrick Lee accepted their view and helped them defend it against various objections. Afterwards, Grisez and Lee worked together drafting and refining this article, which includes replies to objections.

The article is copyright © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford, UK; all rights reserved.

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