Sunday, September 16, 2007

Vatican: Feeding Tubes Obligatory

In case there was any doubt...
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified that the administration of nutrition and hydration to people in the so-called vegetative state is, with rare exceptions, morally obligatory.

The document and accompanying note, released today and approved by Benedict XVI, came as an answer to questions presented to the Vatican by the U.S. bishops in 2005.

The questions were sent just months after Florida woman Terri Schiavo, who was living in a vegetative state after having sustained brain-damage, died 13 days after having her feeding tube removed.

Schiavo's estranged husband requested that her feeding tube be removed, but her Catholic parents said this would constitute murder. After years of legal battles, a judge decreed that the tube should be removed.

Edward Furton, ethicist and director of publications for the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center, told ZENIT that the Vatican statement "speaks directly to the Terri Schiavo case, stating flat out that the removal of food and water from her was not the right thing to do."

He added that the statements "are a reaffirmation of John Paul II's 2004 statement which calls Catholics to provide food and water to patients in PVS [persistent vegetative state]. It affirms that food and water are ordinary care and not considered medical treatment."

Furton explained that there has been "considerable debate about this issue among theologians in this country, with two different schools. Many thought that after John Paul II's statement, the case was closed, but doubts persisted."

He continued: "Some said John Paul II was breaking with Pius XII's teaching, which is mentioned in the Vatican clarification. Pius XII had a lot to say about these issues and was well ahead of his time.

"But the [Vatican] commentary makes pains to say that there is no contradiction between what John Paul II said and what Pius XII taught. Pius XII was speaking about patients who were near death or even already dead. John Paul II was talking about patients who are not dying."
The story then gives some examples of possible exceptions as well as the reason for the Vatican's ruling. Human dignity demands this basic treatment and this dignity is from God, it is not something we give ourselves or even earn.

Lets hope this clarifies the issue for Catholics dealing with difficult end of life issues.

1 comment:

Leticia said...

Great post. I hope it is widely read. During the dehydrating death of Terri Schindler Schiavo, many confused Catholics, including her own bishop failed to understand this. How reassuring that there are future priests who do. Preach on!