Thursday, September 27, 2007

Papal feeding tubes

Just as the Vatican issues an instruction saying that artificial nutrition and hydration are required as "ordinary means" for patients in vegetative states, an Italian doctor claims that John Paul II was "euthanized." According to the Associated Press, the Vatican is denying the claims of Dr. Lina Pavanelli that Pope John Paul II was effectively euthanized because he received only a nasal feeding tube rather than a stomach feeding tube, which would have prolonged his life further. Pavanelli based her opinion on her own medical knowledge and media reports.

Pavanelli gets the unwarranted extrapolation award from me for a bizarro attempt at moral evaluation, but it highlights how rigid and the church's end-of-life guidance is getting. Like it or not, moral decisions in such circumstances are by necessity circumstantial, which is why the church's guidance until recently directed Catholics and their counselors to consider the relative costs and benefits (not just the economic ones) of certain medical interventions. Of what value could a stomach feeding tube have had for a man in the late stages of terminal Parkinson's disease. None, of course, and so that intervention was not obligatory.

There is no moral obligations to flog a human body nearing death with every medical intervention to stave off death's inevitable arrival. Catholic teaching is correct to defend access to medical care for every human being, including those in vegetative states if they ask for it--and I think those who ask for it should be given feeding tubes and the rest if they ask it. But I for one do not want my body sustained beyond all hope of recovery.

Time to take a look at those advanced directives.



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