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The final installment in the Register’s look at culture-of-death influences in end-of-life care.
BY PAUL A. BARRAREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
end of life series, part 3
In earlier parts of this three-part series on end-of-life
issues, we discussed how some hospices are redefining extraordinary treatment,
showing less concern for the sanctity of life than for a quality of life, and
how right-to-life organizations are concerned about eroding values in the care
of the terminally ill. In this final part of the series, we hear from experts
in the teachings of the Catholic Church on these issues.
Legally, the battle for “dying in God’s time,” in the words
of anti-euthanasia activist and North Carolina resident Betty Wickham, may
already have been lost.
In 1975, the Catholic parents of Karen Anne Quinlan were
allowed by the New Jersey Supreme Court to disconnect their comatose daughter
from her respirator, but her parents would not remove her feeding tube; she
lived for another nine years.
The court quoted Pope Pius XII, who said that ending
extraordinary medical treatment such as a mechanical breathing machine did not
constitute euthanasia in a case like hers.
But in 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court did not refer to Church
teaching in the case of Nancy Beth Cruzan, when it ruled that Cruzan’s parents
could remove her feeding tube. She died 11 days later, probably from a
combination of starvation and dehydration.
A North Carolina bill that was signed into law in August
allows for “back door euthanasia,” according to the vice president of the state
chapter of the Catholic Medical Association, Dr. Kenneth McElynn.
“All coma patients across the board are placed in serious
jeopardy,” said McElynn. “The bill creates a dangerous new advance directive
form called a ‘Medical Order for Scope of Treatment,’ also known as the MOST
form. The form originates from Oregon’s right-to-die movement and its promotion
is part of their national campaign.”
The problem that pro-life medical professionals such as
McElynn see with new directives and with the changing terminology being used in
palliative care these days is that caregivers and the terminally ill are
beginning to accept what used to be unacceptable — and what the Church still
finds unacceptable. And even when they don’t, euthanasia appears to be on the
fast track to becoming the new de facto law of the land.
John Luce and Ann Alpers, writing in the American Journal of
Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, said so-called terminal sedation, where
a patient is rendered comatose by medication and then, since the patient is never
expected to regain consciousness, may have food and water withdrawn, is fast
becoming legally acceptable. The same might be said of outright mercy killing,
in fact if not always in statute.
“Overall, cases of suspected assisted suicide or euthanasia
are difficult to prosecute successfully. … If the patient and family consented
to palliative care,” Luce and Alpers wrote.