Catholic hospitals in the United States are deliberating whether to uphold Pope John Paul II’s latest teaching on treatment offered to patients who are in a persistent vegetative state.
Last month, the Pope said feeding and hydrating patients in a persistent vegetative state is "morally obligatory" and that withdrawing feeding tubes constitutes "euthanasia by omission." Feeding tubes should be considered natural and ordinary treatment, not an artificial medical intervention, he said.
Fr. Michael Place, president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, issued a written statement that the Pope's teaching affirms the CHA’s commitment to respecting the dignity of each person, regardless of their physical or medical condition, reported the Associated Press.
However, he added that bishops and health-care providers must carefully consider the Pope’s teaching. Currently, U.S. bishops and ethicists have been studying the issue and its implications for Catholic hospitals. However, clarification on the issue is not expected for months.
Until then, Catholic hospitals will continue to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, outlined by the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops.
These guidelines indicate that feeding tubes for patients in persistent vegetative states are "medical treatment" that can be continued or stopped, based on the benefits and burdens for patient and family.
These guidelines also allow hospitals to honor living wills, indicating that patients do not want life-prolonging treatments.