The Pope and Directed Food and Fluid Administration vs “Fundamental Human Dignity”
For those who are unaware, there came a response about a week ago from the Vatican to the concerns of the Catholic Bishops in the United States regarding Pope Benedict XVI”s statement earlier related to the administration of food and fluid to a patient who is permanently unconscious in a so-called “permanent vegetative state”. The following response was prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and approved by the Pope.
CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
RESPONSES TO CERTAIN QUESTIONSOF THE UNITED STATES CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPSCONCERNING ARTIFICIAL NUTRITION AND HYDRATION
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 LevadaPrefect
Angelo Amato, S.D.B.Titular Archbishop of SilaSecretary
This means that the Pope has directed that physicians and healthcare providers must provide all patients who are permanently unconscious, not expected to ever recover consciousness, food and fluid by natural (impossible in an unconscious patient) or artificial by intravenous or tube method against medical judgement and against the request of the patient or surrogate who has officially made a statement to the contrary. refusing at some point further food or fluid. This directive presumably would be followed by every Catholic hospital in the world and would, of course, apply to all patients whether Catholic or not. What do you think about this directive and whether, in some cases, by denying a patient’s autonomous decision about their own healthcare actually represents ignoring and not supporting a “fundamental human dignity.”? The other concern is whether the directive will be applied to all patients who refuse food and fluid, even those who are conscious. ..Maurice.