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Questions and Answers in Moral Theology

Cases of Conscience from The Casuist

(Joseph F. Wagner Publishers, NY, 1906.)

This moral case is particularly applicable to the so-called recreational use of drugs. Although morphine use is considered here, its misuse — as described in this article — applies to the use of other drugs today, which are often far more harmful to both soul and body.

The Use of Morphine

Question: How is the use of morphine, or the morphine habit, to be considered from the moral standpoint?

1. The use of morphine cannot be absolutely prohibited as contrary to morals, when it is merely a question of allaying nervous excitement or of alleviating pain. But in view of the imminent danger of its misuse and the bad effects it is apt to produce, morphine preparations should be used only by direction of a conscientious physician.

2. The excessive habitual use of morphine is without doubt sinful. Its excessive use will become grievously sinful, even a mortal sin, in cases where it works serious injury to bodily health, or where, on account of the pleasure and comfort it affords, a complete intoxication, temporary deprivation of the use of reason is thus produced. The latter excess would render the solitary case a mortal sin; in the habitual excessive use the mortal guilt is found in the consciousness of the injury which the continuous consumption of the drug will work, so that in the case of a determined breaking off of the habit, an occasional temporary relapse into the use may be dealt with leniently.

3. If the use of the drug does not reach the degrees mentioned under No. 2, then the excessive use, although sinful, is not exactly a mortal sin.

4. With those dangerously sick, when death is approaching, the use of morphine for the purpose of stupefaction, even if done to alleviate pain, cannot be morally justified, unless it is intended to produce refreshing sleep or as an anesthetic in a surgical operation. Otherwise, to deprive the patient of consciousness so shortly before death must be looked upon as an ordinary shortening of life, which I am not obliged to oppose, if someone undertakes to do it in good faith in order to prevent greater evils, but in which I should not be allowed to consent or assist.

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