It was perhaps the situation of Terri Schiavo which highlighted a need for clariffication as to what constitutes "medical treatment" and what constitutes always-necessary "medical care"....
As per an August 2007 statement from Colorado's Catholic bishops, "As long as the person is able to absorb medically assisted food and water they continue to be beneficial in sustaining life. If the person is unable to absorb them, their administration may be discontinued. When inevitable death is imminent, one may cease the administration of food and water if the
administration of them provides the person with no comfort and ceasing their administration will not be the cause of death."
In 1993, Maryland's Catholic Bishops released "Care of the Sick and Dying." The Bishops of the "Old Line State" recently posted an FAQ, in regard to their soon-to-be-available online, updated "Comfort and Consolation: Care of the Sick & Dying":
- What are some of the decisions that people face as they near life’s end on earth?
- One decision has to do with the initiation of certain treatments. Some forms of medical intervention are designed to cure diseases; other to relieve symptoms, retard the progress of a disease, or compensate for the failure of a bodily function.
Whether a given treatment is necessary or useful to a particular patient is a medical question requiring the expertise of health-care professionals. When professional medical care is needed, we must consent to the reasonable use of
appropriate services so that we do not neglect our own well-being and our spiritual and family obligations. Beyond these normal efforts, we are at liberty
to employ or refuse the techniques of modern medicine that may entail excessive difficulty or risk.
Whether a particular treatment may be excessively burdensome to an individual patient is a moral question requiring the faithful application of Church teaching. An ethical judgment may be required as to whether or not the benefits of the proposed treatment justify significant difficulties and suffering that the treatment may bring to a particular patient.
- Another decision has to do with the cessation of treatment. We must not stop medically
useful interventions because we are tired of living, or feel that we no longer have a contribution to make, or believe we are a burden to others.
Yet it is morally acceptable to interrupt such treatments when they are no longer beneficial or have become disproportionately difficult. That said, it is important to note what Pope John Paul II taught us -- that basic care including medically assisted nutrition and hydration in the case of a patient who is unable to take food or drink orally) must not be stopped or interrupted.