Catholic Hospitals Will Respect Patients' Written Wishes
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 15, 2004
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI--Catholic-run hospitals across the United States want patients to know that they will honor living wills, at least while they figure out how a recent statement by Pope John Paul II will affect hospitals' "end of life" policies.
In an address given March 20, the pope said that providing food and water is ordinary and appropriate care for a patient considered to be in a "persistent vegetative state". He said health care providers were "morally obligated" to provide such treatment and that it should not be looked at as artificial medical intervention.
The pope called the act of removing feeding tubes "a true euthanasia by omission."
American bishops, theologians and ethicists are studying the issue to determine how the pope's position will affect policies at the 565 hospitals in the Catholic Health Association which represent about 10 percent of hospitals in the U.S.
"It reminds us of our responsibility never to abandon the sick or dying," the Reverend Michael Place, CHA's president and chief executive, said in a statement.
Up to this point, Catholic hospitals in the U.S. have followed the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services" which considers feeding tubes to be medical care that can be withdrawn when the "burden" of such treatment on the patient and family is considered to outweigh the benefits.
CHA officials said they will continue, for the time being, to respect the "advance directives" and "do not resuscitate" orders, that thousands of people have had formally drawn up, which call for no "heroic" or "artificial" measures to keep them alive in specific circumstances.
The pope's pronouncement has drawn international attention to the case of Terri Schiavo, whose family is Catholic.
Terri's husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, believes she has been in a persistent vegetative state, that she cannot interact with her surroundings, cannot feel pain, and will not recover from a 1990 brain injury. He petitioned the court in 1998 to have her feeding tube removed, claiming that she told him before her injury that she would not have wanted to live "by artificial means".
Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, believe she responds to her environment and is alert. They suspect that Mr. Schiavo wants his wife to die so he can marry another woman with whom he has fathered two children. The have also accused him of abusing his wife.
The courts ordered her feeding tube removed so she would die of starvation and dehydration on October 16, 2003. Governor Jeb Bush, responding to tens of thousands of messages from disability rights advocates and right-to-life supporters, championed "Terri's Law" through the Legislature, giving him permission to have the feeding tube reinserted six days later.
Mr. Schiavo immediately sued the governor, claiming that the law violates Terri's privacy, along with the Florida Constitution's separation of powers provisions.
That case is still pending.
"Catholic Hospitals to Uphold Living Wills" (Associated Press via Yahoo! News)
"Terri Schiavo's Right To Live" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)