Pope's Pronouncement on Feeding
Tubes Stuns Catholic Hospitals
Statement from Barbara Coombs
Lee, President of Compassion in Dying Federation:
On March 16 the Vatican released an opinion that
feeding tubes are not medical therapy and cannot
be withheld from a permanently unconscious
person. And for those who hoped it wasn't official,
Pope John Paul II confirmed the position a
few days later, announcing that artificial
food and water is always "morally obligatory"
and removing a feeding tube is "true euthanasia
by omission," violating God's law.
The impact is enormous, for Catholics and non-Catholics
alike. The Pope's pronouncement runs counter
to written instructions in hundreds of thousands
of Advance Directives and the clear wishes
of many individuals with no written document.
But it may determine whether those wishes get
honored at 565 Catholic hospitals in the nation,
and by millions of nurses, doctors and hospital
workers who follow the Pope's lead.
Catholic healthcare institutions must follow
Church doctrine. A document called, "Ethical
and Religious Directives for Catholic Health
Care Services" lays out the rules. When
a Catholic institution merges with a secular
one, terms of the merger usually impose the
Directives on the new entity, too. Every state
has an Advance Directive law, but not one requires
a hospital or doctor to honor a patient's wishes.
At most, providers who won't follow an advance
directive must give notice and transfer the
patient. But the penalties are weak or absent,
and patients and family members are usually
helpless when wishes go unheeded. Compassion
is trying to change that through litigation,
in the California case of Margaret Furlong.
Understandably, Catholic hospitals worry the
Vatican's position may render them less desirable
as community healthcare providers, and some
are trying to portray the pronouncement as
mere guidance rather than doctrine. Either
way, the debate highlights the fact that Catholic
doctrine is often murky, with decisions governed
by a balance between benefit and burden. Whether
a Catholic provider follows an end-of-life
wish probably depends most on how its local
bishop interprets doctrine.
Because right now, Catholic hospitals answer
to their local bishop, not to their patients.
Barbara Coombs Lee is the pre-eminent spokesperson
for legalization of aid in dying. She told
journalists at the National Press Club that
Attorney General John Ashcroft's attempt to
nullify Oregon's unique assisted dying law
stem from his "personal vendetta."
As Chief Petitioner of Oregon Dignity With
Dignity Act, Lee knows an "unwarranted
attack" when she sees one.
She has been quoted in The New York Times,
Oprah Magazine, AARP, CNN, The Washington Post,
Readers Digest and Rolling Stone.
To learn more about the following topics, click
the links provided.
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Compassion in Dying Stories of Dignity &
Choice Edited by Barbra Coombs
FAIR USE NOTICE
site contains copyrighted material the
use of which has not always been specifically
authorized by the copyright owner. We
are making such material available in
our efforts to advance understanding of
environmental, political, human rights,
economic, democracy, scientific, and social
justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes
a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material
as provided for in section 107 of the
US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title
17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on
this site is distributed without profit
to those who have expressed a prior interest
in receiving the included information
for research and educational purposes.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml.
If you wish to use copyrighted material
from this site for purposes of your own
that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain
permission from the copyright owner.