Page 6 - The Final Journey

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The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
in its Declaration
on Euthanasia of May 5, 1980, proposed the terms ‘proportionate’
and ‘disproportionate means,’ and stated that people are obligated
to use proportionate means of preserving life while not morally
obligated to choose disproportionate means. When medical
measures are useless or excessively burdensome on a patient who
is suffering from a terminal and irreversible condition, there is
no moral obligation to provide such measures to the patient.
withholding or withdrawal
of disproportionate or extraordinary
means of preserving life is not the same as either passive or active
euthanasia, but simply the acceptance of the frailty of human life and
of our destiny with God.
Proportionate/ordinary care
typically includes nutrition,
hydration, and other human comforts as well as medication or
medical treatment considered more beneficial than burdensome to
the patient.
Themedical provision of nutrition and hydration
is a particularly
difficult issue. The purpose of food and water is to help the human
body retain its ability to sustain life. When the body is no longer
processing food and water, artificial nutrition and hydration become
disproportionate means of preserving life and therefore optional.
In some cases,
to persist in providing such nutrition and hydration
may become unduly burdensome for the patient and not medically
Another difficult situation is the persistent vegetative
state (PVS),
a chronic neurological disorder of consciousness
characterized by appearing awake at times without awareness.
In such cases,
the Church has indicated that medically provided
nutrition and hydration are to be considered proportionate means
in so far as they provide the person with food and drink. The Ethical
and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERD),
which regulates the way ethical decisions should be made in Catholic
health care institutions, reviewed in its fifth edition Directive 58 in
order to address the case related to PVS.
This new teaching
was meant to take into consideration a talk dated
March 20, 2004, to a Congress in Rome on Persistent Vegetative
State in which Blessed Pope John Paul II issued important
pronouncements related to artificial nutrition and hydration.