Saturday, June 4, 2011

Hospice & Kevorkian v. Catholic Teaching

The "Hospice Patients Alliance affirms that all human life is inherently valuable and that the role of hospice nurses, physicians and all other staff is to alleviate suffering and provide comfort for the sick and dying without sanctioning or assisting their suicide." This group's understanding of nutrition and hydration (aka, food and water) certainly appears to be consistent with Catholic teaching, but it varies dramatically from what has been published on the web site of the Hospice Foundation of America by William Lamber, M.D.:


  • "The notion of caregivers not providing normal amounts of food or water runs counter to all we have been taught in medical training, much less what we hold to be necessary in everyday society. Yet because of the advances of science we are now able to prolong the lives of persons who would not survive without external support, mechanical devices, or, at times, intravenous or central line (cut-down) nutrition and water....
In last year's HBO tribute to the late Dr. Jack Kevorkian, it is interesting to note that Kevorkian was depicted as arguing that assisted suicide was far more humane than death by the deprivation of nutrition (aka, starvation). Of course, this was a pointless argument, as assisted suicide and failure to treat food and water as ordinary care are both absolutely IMMORAL!

As per Blessed Pope John Paul II, "the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering."

Dr. Lamber of the Hospice Foundation of America goes on to unwittingly remind us that medical doctors are NOT always the brightest or most ethical members of society:


  • "Physicians and bio-ethicists who work with dying persons have grappled with the dilemma of what is reasonable care for a dying person. There comes a time in some cases where even nutrition and hydration are considered extraordinary means of prolonging life, and such ordinary nutrients are discontinued. This is never done without great and careful consideration [emphasis added]....
Father Thomas D. Williams has masterfully pointed out the fallacy of such "anguish-based ethics," which suggest that - even if a choice is immoral - it is legitimized by the chooser's struggle! Nonsense! Dr. Landers continues in a similar vein,


  • "For persons in the final phase of illness, the withholding of food and fluids is not painful....
The tragic death by starvation of Terri Schiavo is a reminder that the phrase, "final phase of illness," can be used in a higly loosey-goosey manner!

Dr. Landers also maintains that


  • "There is a side effect of starvation and dehydration in which one's metabolism changes and the resulting elevated level of ketones produces a mild sense of euphoria, so that hunger and thirst are not the problem we would imagine. This same phenomenon has been well documented in the self-imposed starvation of Irish prisoners in Northern Ireland who went on strict fasts to cause them to die, if possible, on certain Irish holidays. Once starvation begins, the ensuing metabolic shift eliminates the sense of hunger. The body feeds at first on fat reserves, and later on protein....
While I am NOT a medical professional, I would like to point out that the independent film, "Hunger," deals with those Irish deaths by starvation. Death by starvation is as inhumane as it is immoral!

How ironic that Dr. Landers maintains that,


  • "In no way is the withholding of food and fluids comparable to the methods or rationalizations employed by Dr. Kevorkian."
This death by depriving food/water advocate is just as eager to distance himself from the death by assisted suicide advocate, as the death by assisted suicide advocate was to distance himself from death by starvation!


As per the Vatican's 2007 "Responses to Certain Questions of the USCCB Concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration":


  • "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."
As per Directive 58 of the 2009, 5th edition of the U.S. Catholic Bishops "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services":


  • "In principal, there is a moral obligation to provide patients with food and water, including medically assisted nutrition and hydration, for those who cannot take food orally."

We cannot afford to be naive about aspects of hospice which are in conflict with Catholic teaching.



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About Me

I am an enormously blessed husband and dad. In regard to my Catholic theological background, I have a certificate in social ministry & a master's degree (moral theology concentration), as well as a catechetical diploma from the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Clergy (Nope, I am not now - nor have I have ever been - a seminarian, deacon, or priest.). I feel particularly proud to have a mandatum. I also have a doctorate in Christian counseling psychology.

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