The Vatican's top bioethics official on Tuesday called "reprehensible" the suicide of an American woman suffering terminal brain cancer who stated she wanted to die with dignity.

Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told the ANSA news agency that "dignity is something other than putting an end to one's own life."

Brittany Maynard's suicide in Oregon on Saturday, following a public declaration of her motives aimed at sparking political action on the issue, has stirred debate over assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

Carrasco de Paula said "Brittany Maynard's act is in itself reprehensible, but what happened in the consciousness we do not know."

He cautioned that he was not judging individuals "but the gesture in and of itself should be condemned."

A board member of the Oregon-based advocacy group Compassion & Choices, Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera, responded that Maynard was not Catholic and it would be wrong to impose a set of religious beliefs on people who do not share them.