Difficult to believe, but March 31st marks the eighth anniversary of Terri Schiavo'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." The late Holy Father's clear guidance was subsequently incorporated into Directive 58 of the U.S. Bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services [ERDs].
As per Directive 24 of those same ERDs, "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."
Looking at pertinent materials from local Catholic hospitals, it is my experience that they do NOT properly specify
- 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.
Over the years, Our Sunday Visitor has brought to light gaping chasms between Catholic medical ethics and situations in "Catholic" hospitals. I hope and pray that you will remind your readers that we can best honor the memory of Terri Schiavo by reminding everyone of the need to follow ERD Directives 58 and 24.