UNBORN WORD of the day


Medically assisted nutrition and hydration
February 21, 2010, 10:13 pm
Filed under: Pro-life

This may be surprising, but in the last six months I have encountered the issue of medically assisted nutrition and hydration for those in the dying stage of life, on three separate occasions.

I want to discuss one of these times in which the  person I spoke with did not come at the issue from an overtly spiritual or moral perspective,  but rather spoke about it from a genuinely human perspective and demonstrated a commonsense gut reaction to the issue.

Last fall, I attended a luncheon for health  insurance professionals and as you can imagine at such meetings the health care bill was a topic of discussion. A woman sitting at my table brought up Sarah Palin’s statement about death panels and stated that this was already happening.

She went on to recount the story of her sister’s death. Her sister had cancer and was told that she had about two months to live. She was told that Medicare would no longer pay for hospital care that included nutrition and hydration care. Medicare however would pay for hospice care which would not continue medically assisted nutrition and hydration care and without these her life expectancy was reduced to one or at most two weeks. This woman pointed out that since her sister’s family did not have the financial means to pay for hospital care they reluctantly chose hospice care. She ended her commentary with “It really stank.”

My impression was that this woman was not a Catholic or Christian, and the family did not pursue all of the alternatives, but her reaction to the situation was profoundly human and true. This was not the right way to die.

With this in mind, I decided that I would put a lot of links that might help the Catholic better understand the mind of Christ and the Church on this issue.

First of all the Church considers nutrition and hydration even when medically assisted, ordinary not extraordinary care. The following links are helpful in understanding this teaching.

Catholic Teaching on Assisted Nutrition and Hydration On the U.S. Bishops Recently Updated Healthcare Directives. Jan 10, 2010. from The Westchester Institute For Ethics and the Human Person

The most concise statement that I have found on this issue was in the Guide to Health Care Directives on the North Dakota Catholic Conference of Bishops website – click here to download these directives. Here is the statement from these directives on this issue:

There should be a strong presumption in favor of providing a person with nutrition (food) and hydration (water), even if medically assisted. Providing nutrition and hydration should be considered ordinary care since it serves a life-preserving purpose and the means of supplying food and water are relatively simple and – barring complications – generally without pain. Exceptional situations may exist in which this is not the case, such as when a person is no longer able to assimilate nourishment, or when death is so imminent that withholding or withdrawing food and water will not be the actual cause of death. In no case should food or water be removed with the intent to cause death.

Here are a few more websites that are helpful:

The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops: Vatican  Affirms Church Teaching on Nutrition and Hydration for individuals in the Vegetative State.

Sister Paula Vandegaer who runs International Life Services also has a website on end of life issues:

Scholl Institute of Bioethics

Many hospice organizations have lost their original mission – here is an organization that is trying to preserve the original intent of hospice.

Hospice Patients Alliance (preserving the original mission of hospice)

Rita Marker has a good website on the issue of Euthanasia from a pro-life perspective.

International Task Force


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