Grisez’s primary 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.
After publishing his book on abortion, Grisez participated in establishing an organization to defend human life and promote sound prolife legislation. The organization, Americans United for Life, 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 invited Grisez to write a philosophical article on the ethical and legal issues, and he did so.
For Grisez, this article was important in two ways. First, while working on it, he clearly understood and explained the distinction betweeen what agents intend and what they accept as side effects. Second, he began the research for Life and Death with Liberty and Justice: A Contribution to the Euthanasia Debate, a book he did with the collaboration of Joseph Boyle. “Suicide and Euthanasia” is copyright © University Publications of America, Inc. 1977, all rights reserved.
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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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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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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.
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