During their Nov. 16-19 general assembly, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will vote on the moral obligation to provide medically assisted nutrition and hydration to patients in a persistent vegetative state.
The vote will take place in Baltimore at the bishops' semi-annual plenary meeting.
The document up for consideration will be a proposed revision of the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care." The reworked directives state more definitively what the moral obligation is regarding medically assisted nutrition and hydration.
The current directive, issued in 2001, states that “there should be a presumption in favor in providing nutrition and hydration to all patients, including patients who require medically assisted nutrition and hydration, as long as this is of sufficient benefit to outweigh the burdens involved to the patient.”
Given cases like that of Terry Schiavo, who died in 2005 when her feeding tube was removed, the need for stronger terminology and a more definitive position on this issue has become apparent.
In addition to other changes, the proposed revision states that “as a general rule, there is an obligation to provide patients with food and water, including medically assisted nutrition and hydration for those who cannot take food orally. This obligation extends to patients in chronic conditions (e.g. the 'persistent vegetative state') who can reasonably be expected to live indefinitely if given such care.”
In order for the revision to be adopted it must be approved by the majority of the bishops present and voting at the meeting.