Saturday, September 5, 2009

Robert Schindler, Champion of Catholic Medical Ethics, RIP

Yesterday, Bucks County was honored by the return of the Schindler family, for the funeral of their great patriarch. Bob Schindler and his family suffered greatly, in defense of their beloved Terri Schindler Schiavo and the sanctity of human life, defended by Catholic medical ethics....

In 1995, the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers had released its' Charter for Health Care Workers. As per that document,
  • "The administration of food and liquids, even artificially, is part of the normal treatment always due to the patient when this is not burdensome for him: their undue suspension could be real and properly so-called euthanasia."

In 1999, Pennsylvania's Catholic Bishops published a revision of their Nutrition and Hydration: Moral Considerations:

  • "in almost every instance there is an obligation to continue supplying nutrition and hydration to the unconscious patient....If the patient decides to refuse ordinary treatment,...there remains at least the duty to attempt to persuade the patient otherwise or, failing that, for the physician to remove himself from the case so as not to be guilty of complicity in suicide."
Despite such earlier statements (particularly the one from the Vatican), it appears that MISINTERPRETATION of one sentence from the USCCB's Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 4th ed.") fostered confusion about Church teaching, during the agonized suffering of Terri Schindler-Schiavo, her parents, and her siblings:
  • "The USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities' report...points out the necessary distinctions between questions already resolved by the magisterium and those requiring further reflection, as, for example, the morality of withdrawing medically assisted hydration and nutrition from a person who is in the condition that is recognized by physicians as the 'persistent vegetative state' (PVS)"

In 2004, Pope John Paul II gave an Address to Participants in the International Congress on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advance & Ethical Dilemna." Many of us share the Schindler's belief that the late Holy Father DIRECTLY addressed Terri's situation & then prevalent confusion:

  • "The sick person in a vegetative state, awaiting recovery or a natural end, still has the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc.), and to the prevention of complications related to his confinement to bed. He also has the right to appropriate rehabilitative care and to be monitored for clinical signs of eventual recovery....the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act....The evaluation of probabilities, founded on waning hopes for recovery when the vegetative state is prolonged beyond a year, cannot ethically justify the cessation or interruption of minimal care for the patient, including nutrition and hydration. Death by starvation or dehydration is, in fact, the only possible outcome as a result of their withdrawal"
At that time, Philadelphia's John Cardinal Krol Chair of Moral Theology, Msgr. Kevin McMahon, was quoted by Our Sunday Visitor: "It was only a misinterpretation...that allowed people to imagine that they could withdraw nutrition and hydration from people in a PVS, and I think that the grounds on which they created that doubt and based the argument that it was okay to do so have been removed by the Pope." Richard Doerflinger, chair of the aforementioned USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities said: With the Pope's statement, the Church's teaching authority has rejected each aspect of the theory that opposes assisted feeding for patients in a PVS."

Especially after the Holy Father's 2004 statement, I am at a loss to understand how there could ANY remaining confusion with regard to nutrition and hydration (aka, food and water) being ordinary and OBLIGATORY TREATMENT. Still, the Vatican provided "Responses to Certain Questions of the USCCB Concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration in 2007:
  • "The administration of food and water even by artificial means is, in principle, an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life. It is therefore obligatory to the extent to which, and for as long as, it is shown to accomplish its proper finality, which is the hydration and nourishment of the patient. In this way suffering and death by starvation and dehydration are prevented....
  • "A patient in a 'permanent vegetative state' is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means."
In addition to the USCCB's 2001 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 4th ed."(ERDs), Catholic medical ethics must certainly incorporate more recent Vatican teaching, such as the
At this time, the ERDs have NOT yet been updated to incorporate the above Vatican teachings.

Particularly in memory of former residents Terri Schiavo and Bob Schindler, I pray that the Bucks County Catholic community will be vigilant in advocating for authentic Catholic health care.

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