Pope: Care for the sick
Rochester Area Right To Life
Nutrition/hydration for ill/aged
Pope John Paul II address to health care providers
Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II spoke to the International Congress sponsored by World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and the Pontifical Academy of Life. His address, entitled “Life sustaining treatments and the vegetative state,” clearly stated removing the feeding tube of a disabled patient is immoral and amounts to “euthanasia by omission.” He also rejected language used to describe disabled persons as “vegetables,” calling such terms “degrading.”
Since withdrawal of water and food can cause death by starvation/dehydration, their withdrawals cannot be ethically justified.
Considerations about the “quality of life” often dictated by “psychological, social and economic pressures” were rejected by the Pope.
He acknowledged pressures placed on families to withdraw hydration and nutrition. He called for support of those families. He gave examples of programs and facilities which help the patients and families and encouraged medical staff and family teaming.
The Pope’s remarks are considered an “allocution” i.e. papal opinion not viewed as infallible. “L’Osservatore Romano” (English edition) 31 March 2004
Responses to the allocution
The implications and practical effects of the Pope’s remarks will take some time to be resolved. Currently, many hospitals are continuing to follow the “Ethical and Religious Directive for Catholic Health Care Services,” aka ERDs. These guidelines state that feeding tubes for patients in chronically vegetative states are “medical treatment” that can be continued or stopped, based on the benefits and burdens for patient and family.
ERDs require that the patient’s desire for no prolong-ed medical treatments must be communicated in advance. In NY state, that would mean specifying in a person’s Health Care Proxy what treatments he/she would forego and informing his/her health care agent, identified in the person’s Health Care Proxy document, preferences to be communicated when he/she can no longer make personal medical decisions.
The Pope specified nutrition, hydration, cleanliness and warmth as “ordinary care.” In America, it has become increasingly common to consider nutrition and hydration to be “extraordinary care” for some patients, usually those in very weakened physical conditions. Using the term, “quality of life,” the medical profession places the care decision on a judgment some would dare not make about another human being.
“US Catholic Leaders Refuse Explicit Papal Directive on Nutrition and Hydration; Will ‘Study’ Life and Death Issue for a Year”
By May 1st, headlines like the above were appearing. There is a division among Catholic ethicists between the teaching of the Church and modern bioethics. Father John Paris, bioethics professor at Boston College, bluntly stated defiance, e.g. "I think the best thing to do is ignore it, and it will go away," Paris added, "It's not an authoritative teaching statement."
Father John Strynkowski, Executive Director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices, said that the USCCB office will "study" the pope's statement, but anticipated no changes in Catholic hospitals until completion of the study. "What's involved is a process of study and reflection, looking at the pope's statement in the light of previous statements," Strynkowski said. "Theologians will have to study that whole chain of documents." The process, he said, may take a year.
Information from: LifeSiteNews.com; May 3, 2004;
St.Petersburg TimesOnline: http://www.sptimes.com/2004/05/01/tampabay/At_pope_s_word__new_S.shtml
RARTL Updated May 2004
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