A teachable moment on medical ethics


I admit it: I'm impressed. Here's Frances D'Emilio, an AP reporter covering the Pope's illness and his recent statements on medical ethics, and doing a solid, accurate job of describing what the Catholic Church believes and teaches on these matters.

Later that day, the Vatican announced he had been fitted with a feeding tube in his nose to help boost his nutritional intake.

The use of the feeding tube illustrates a key point of Roman Catholic policy John Paul has proclaimed: It is morally necessary to give patients food and water, no matter their condition.

As Parkinson's disease and other ailments have left him increasingly frail, the pope has been emphasizing that the chronically ill, "prisoners of their condition ... retain their human dignity in all its fullness."

The Vatican's attitude to the chronically ill has been apparent in its bitter condemnation of a judge's order two weeks ago to remove a feeding tube from Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged American woman who died Thursday.

Vatican Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, reacting to Schiavo's death, denounced the removal of her feeding tube as "an attack against God."

Although different, some see parallels in the two cases.

Under John Paul, Vatican teaching on the final stages of life includes a firm rejection of euthanasia, insistence on treatments that help people bear ailments with dignity and encouragement of research to enhance and prolong life.

A 1980 Vatican document makes the distinction between "proportionate" and "disproportionate" means of prolonging life. While it gives room for refusal of some forms of aggressive medical intervention for terminally ill patients, it insists that "normal care" must not be interrupted.

John Paul set down exactly what that meant in a speech last year to an international conference on treatments for patients in a so-called persistent vegetative state.

"I should like particularly to underline how the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory."

John Paul's 26-year papacy has been marked by its call to value the aged and to respect the sick, subjects the pope has turned to as he battles Parkinson's disease and crippling knee and hip ailments.


Well, I think she was off in one detail: one must provide food and water unless death is so imminent that their provision is ineffectual.

Though I am not a Catholic (an evangelical Christian and descend from dissenting Presbyterians in Scotland and Ireland) I would like to place theology aside in praise of the Pope and his lifelong display of courage in the face of tyranny and death.

An man who withstood a hell that few can imagine and from a country that had endured centuries of occupation, partition and persecution. How can one survive the Nazis and then decades of ruthless and godless communism? It is only through the grace of God.

How can anyone say thanks enough to one who quietly and when appropriate, tirelessly worked for the liberation of Eastern Europe from a system that only the very pits of hell could have conceived? How can anyone say thanks enough for one who has spoken against abortion and the taking of innocent life, as in the case of Terry Schiavo?

Though I hope and pray, God willing, that he live as long as possible, we as Christians know that if this the end for John Paul, then it is only really the beginning. For we all have hope of life eternal only in Christ, the author and finisher of our faith and I know that his hope is in Him.


Greg Lee

I agree with the Vatican's position on removing terry's feeding tube. It is cruel punishment. You wouldn't do that to a dog, and that was allowed to happen to a woman. Her "husband" should be in jail.

I agree. A dog would not be treated the way Terri Schiavo was treated. In states where the death penalty is legal, convicted murderers aren't sentenced to death by starvation, either. In fact, their last meal is of their choice. Go figure.

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On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

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This page contains a single entry by Richard Chonak published on March 31, 2005 8:10 PM.

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