"Imagine that you are lying on a bed in a sterile room....You are relatively lucid but you cannot move or say a word....you want the administration of excessive drugs to stop, you
want another chance to fight for your life....someone has made the decision that your time
is up. And it wasn't God....
"If only they would afford you nutrients and hydration intravenously to help you sustain life a little longer but you hear them say 'we don't do that here'....
"I fail to understand how such a decision to terminate another's life can be misconstrued as the Will of God....My hands are tied as I am a once-removed relative and have no say although, God knows, I tried. My dear loved one lives on in my heart forever and always and some day, face to face, we will discuss what was horribly and unethically wrong with this picture" (Angels of mercy ... or death?).
In reading the above, I was so reminded of Terri Schiavo. Easter Sunday, March 31st, will mark the eighth anniversary of Terri's death by deprivation of food and water. In the midst of theological confusion hampering intervention to save Terri's life, Blessed John Paul II proclaimed:
- "I should like particularly to underline how 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."
- "In compliance with federal law, a Catholic health care institution will make available to patients information about their rights, under the laws of their state, to make an advance directive for their medical treatment. The institution, however, will not honor an advance directive that is contrary to Catholic teaching. If the advance directive conflicts with Catholic teaching, an explanation should be provided as to why the directive cannot be honored."
Though the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is home to both the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the Catholic Medical Association, one need not have advanced theological degrees to spot gaping chasms between Catholic medical ethics and situations in our "Catholic" hospitals. For example,
- neither Saint Mary's Advanced Directives and Living Wills,
- nor Holy Redeemer's Making Your Own Health Care Decisions and Advance Directive Form,
- nor Mercy Health System's Vendor Compliance Program
- Catholic teaching with regard to nutrition and hydration, and
- that health care services cannot honor advance directives (e.g., non-specific directives to forego nutrition and hydration) opposed to Catholic teaching (cf., Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, Charter for Health Care Workers, 1995; Address of John Paul II to the Participants in the International Congress on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemnas", 3/20/04; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responses to Certain Questions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration, 8/1/07; USCCB, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (5th ed), 11/17/09).
We can best honor the memory of Terri Schiavo by reminding everyone of the need to follow ERD Directives 58 and 24.