Catholic Church Says Providing Patient Food and Nutrition is Obligatory

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 14, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Catholic Church Says Providing Patient Food and Nutrition is Obligatory Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 14,

The Vatican ( — The Catholic Church has released a new policy document saying physicians have an obligation to provide comatose patients with food and water. The policy has a bearing on patients like Terri Schiavo, who was killed when courts granted her former husband the right to revoke her food and water.

The Vatican policy group Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released the document Friday in response to questions submitted to the Catholic bishops in the U.S.

The CDF response, approved by Pope Benedict XVI, says providing food and water is "an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life," and, as a result, "obligatory" in most circumstances.

"In this way suffering and death by starvation and dehydration are prevented," the document adds.

The Vatican policy also speaks to the personhood of minimally conscious patients like Schiavo and those who are supposedly in a "vegetative state."

"A patient in a ‘permanent vegetative state’ is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means," the Church said.

A lengthy explanatory note accompanied the document and adds that "in principle" to provide nutrition and hydration may not apply "in very remote places or in situations of extreme poverty, the artificial provision of food and water may be physically impossible."

The new policy applies to the removal of feeding tubes, as happened in Terri’s case. That eventually caused her a painful 13-day starvation and dehydration death.

The Vatican also noted that Pope John Paul II told a 2004 medical conference the same thing — that feeding tubes and artificial nutrition are normal means of medical care and should not be revoked.

Cardinal William Levada and Archbishop Angelo Amato: the prefect and secretary, respectively, of the CDF, signed the statement.