Magazine article U.S. Catholic

A Change in Teaching on Life Support?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

A Change in Teaching on Life Support?

Article excerpt

Pope John Paul II's statement about the moral obligation to feed and hydrate patients who are in a "persistent vegetative state" has caused a flurry of questions among health care providers, ethicists, and families alike--and no easy answers have been reached yet.

"We have to figure out more specifically what he meant and the implications," Dan Dwyer, director of ethics for the Springfield, Missouri-based St. John's Health System, told USA Today (April 15). "Our intention is to provide care and comfort, not to put someone to death quicker because they're suffering. If there's a vague or gray zone, we always favor providing nutrition and hydration. It's recognized as a very special form of care."

The implications are important because more than 600 Catholic hospitals in the U.S. will need to assess their operations and see if they are in agreement with the pope's statement. Currently, most Catholic hospitals look to the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services" outlined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The pope, who made the statement March 20 following a Vatican symposium on scientific and ethical issues surrounding people in vegetative states, also said families of vegetative patients need more emotional and economic support so they can better care for their loved ones. …

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