The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date: May 14, 2004
Catholic hospitals say they will honor living wills
By RELIGION NEWS SERVICE
Americas Catholic hospitals will honor a patients 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 popes 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 popes 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. Johns Health Systems in Springfield, Mo. I think its too soon to tell; there are a lot of filters to go through.
National Catholic Reporter, May 14, 2004
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