Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Utilitarian Pessimism, Human Dignity, and the Vegetative State: A Practical Analysis of the Papal Allocution

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Utilitarian Pessimism, Human Dignity, and the Vegetative State: A Practical Analysis of the Papal Allocution

Article excerpt

Don O'Brien et al., Utilitarian Pessimism, Human Dignity, and the Vegetative State: A Practical Analysis of the Papal Allocution, 4 NAT'L CATH. BIOETHICS Q. 497 (2004).

This paper provides a practical analysis of the Address of John Paul II to the Participants in the International Congress: "Life Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas." In contrast to some interpretations in the popular media, the authors read the Address through the hermeneutic lens that it is consistent with--not a revision to--prior magisterial teaching. This reading is based on the principle of continuity as a constitutive feature of the development of doctrine. The analysis focuses on the context in which the authors believe the Address should be understood, the substantive moral guidance contained within the text of the Address itself, and the practical implications for the Catholic health ministry in the United States regarding the use of tube-feeding in the care of persons in a persistent vegetative state (PVS).

The authors argue that the Holy Father's Address does not necessarily preclude Catholic health-care institutions from honoring certain advance directives or appropriate surrogate decisions to refuse tube-feeding for persons in PVS. Regarding surrogate decisions, the Address offers substantive moral guidance by identifying those types of judgments that cannot justify a decision to argue that the Address does not necessarily preclude faithful Catholics from making a judgment in good conscience that, for them, tube-feeding even for persons in PVS, could be disproportionate means given their own circumstances. …

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