Saturday, September 15, 2007

End of life issues clarified


First question: Is the administration of food and water (whether by natural or artificial means) to a patient in a "vegetative state" morally obligatory except when they cannot be assimilated by the patient’s body or cannot be administered to the patient without causing significant physical discomfort?
Response: Yes. The administration of food and water even by artificial means is, in principle, an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life. It is therefore obligatory to the extent to which, and for as long as, it is shown to accomplish its proper finality, which is the hydration and nourishment of the patient. In this way suffering and death by starvation and dehydration are prevented.
Second question: When nutrition and hydration are being supplied by artificial means to a patient in a "permanent vegetative state", may they be discontinued when competent physicians judge with moral certainty that the patient will never recover consciousness?
Response: No. A patient in a "permanent vegetative state" is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means.
* * *
The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved these Responses, adopted in the Ordinary Session of the Congregation, and ordered their publication.

Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 1, 2007.

William Cardinal Levada
Angelo Amato, S.D.B.
Titular Archbishop of Sila
This document will be very helpful for me as a pastor and for faithful Catholics in dealing with the end-of-life issues that are its subject. I will never forget being awakened at 2:00 a.m. once with a woman who wanted to know that if she were putting her aunt in a rest home, and since her aunt had Altzeimer's disease could she have them not feed or hydrate her? The whole story is almost as interesting as the Protestant woman who called me for counselling because she and her husband had been to a party where there had been drinking which lead to a sex orgy. I will, however, save the telling of both until another time.
The late night caller just didn't want to fool with the old woman, and didn't want to pay the expenses of the rest home. Since I was unable to give her any satisfaction (after a long time of discussion), she wanted to know if there were another priest available. Hearing that I was the only one in the county, she was astonished, being from south Louisiana where priests and parishes are more common. At the end, she angrily thanked me for nothing and went away sad.
It is unbelievable that anyone would be so callous to begin with, but then wanting to starve and dehydrate people to death has been done often in the last century. I guess that the children of the times are more hardened to such things. I hope that the aunt died in peace without being starved or dying of thirst.

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