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Food and Water: ‘Extraordinary Treatment’ of the Dying?

FACTS of life

BY Jim Cosgrove

January 11-17, 1998 Issue | Posted 1/11/98 at 2:00 PM

 

Food, water, and oxygen are not “treatment”—they are fundamental medical care and they are basic human rights. Just as a basic right (to life) was discarded for an artificially manufactured “right” (to privacy) to impose abortion, now another genuine basic right (to food and water) is being jettisoned in order to impose another phony “right” (to die).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable. Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded” (2277).

Bishop James McHugh of Camden, N.J. in his 1991 pastoral letter Death and Dying Issues said: “Food and water does not cure the PVS [Persistent Vegetative State] patient; it maintains life. It does not cause suffering for the patient nor is it considered exceptional or experimental medical technology. If the nutrition is discontinued then the patient will die because a new cause of death has been introduced, that is, from a deliberately intended deprivation of nourishment, or in common language, from starvation.”

No person should be deprived of food and water as long as they can do him good. However, if their provision causes significant pain or discomfort in the very last stages of life when inevitable death is truly imminent—then it may be permissible to withdraw them to avoid pain and suffering.

Therefore, if a stomach tube is causing a person pain, and the person is near death, nutrition would not be doing him any good, and it would be permissible to remove the stomach tube.

In all cases of withdrawal of nutrition and hydration, two conditions must be met:

ı The current form of feeding causes significant pain or is contraindicated; and

ı The person is so close to death that further nutrition will do him no good, and he will die naturally before the resultant hunger and thirst cause significant pain.

According to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities' 1992 statement Nutrition and Hydration: Moral and Pastoral Responsibilities: “The harsh reality is that some who propose withdrawal of nutrition and hydration from certain patients do directly intend to bring about a patient's death, and would even prefer a change in the law to allow for what they see as more ‘quick and painless’ means to cause death. In other words, nutrition and hydration (whether orally administered or medically assisted) are sometimes withdrawn not because a patient is dying, but precisely because a patient is not dying (or not dying quickly) and someone believes it would be better if he or she did, generally because the patient is perceived as having an unacceptably low ‘quality of life’ or as imposing burdens on others.”

Source: The Facts of Life: An Authoritative Guide to Life and Family Issues, by Brian Clowes PhD (Human Life International, Front Royal, Va.). Reprinted with permission.