National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 14, 2004

Catholic hospitals say they will honor living wills


America’s Catholic hospitals will honor a patient’s wishes not to be put on life support even though Pope John Paul II said hospitals are forbidden to remove feeding tubes from vegetative patients.

On March 20, the pope said continuing nutritional or hydration support was “morally obligatory” and that “knowingly and willingly” removing it amounted to “euthanasia by omission.”

The St. Louis-based Catholic Health Association said the pope’s warnings raise “significant ethical, legal, clinical and pastoral implications,” but do not appear to change church policy on so-called living wills.

Fr. Michael Place, president of the association, said guidelines on end-of-life matters issued by the U.S. bishops’ conference “remain in effect.”

The “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” say “there should be a presumption of providing nutrition and hydration to all patients,” especially for patients who need feeding tubes as part of “medical treatment.”

However, patients who are able to make a conscious decision “may forgo extraordinary or disproportionate means of preserving life.” Such wishes should “always be respected and normally complied with” as long as they do not involve euthanasia or suicide.

Place said the pope’s remarks remind “us of our responsibility never to abandon the sick or dying,” and said the health community will continue to discuss the issue with bishops.

“We have to figure out more specifically what he meant and the implications,” said Dan Dwyer, director of Ethics for St. John’s Health Systems in Springfield, Mo. “I think it’s too soon to tell; there are a lot of filters to go through.”

National Catholic Reporter, May 14, 2004

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: