Catholic Bishops Vote to Reaffirm Food and Water for Coma, "Vegetative" Patients

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 18, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Catholic Bishops Vote to Reaffirm Food and Water for Coma, "Vegetative" Patients

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 18
, 2009

Baltimore, MD ( — The nation’s Catholic bishops have agreed to strengthen the requirement that Catholic hospitals give food and water to comatose or patients in a so-called "vegetative" state. The move drew praise and support from the family of Terri Schiavo, whose former husband killed in her by removing her nutrition.

On an overwhelming vote, the bishops voted 219-4 to guide Catholic heath care facilities towards the moral responsibility to feed and hydrate such patients.

The bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services told caregivers at U.S. Catholic hospitals to use a presumption in favor of protecting human life.

The new rule incorporates a strong position maintaining that all patients in comatose or "vegetative" states receive food and water except those “close to inevitable death” from underlying conditions.

The directives prohibit euthanasia and allow hospitals to follow Catholic pro-life teachings even if contrary to patient wishes.

The family of Terri Schiavo, through their Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, applauded the vote, saying it "affirmed the Catholic Church’s two thousand year old teaching that all human life is sacred and deserving of our care, no matter its condition."

The Schindler family "wishes to extend its sincere thanks to the USCCB for reaffirming this fundamental truth," a statement sent to said.

Bobby Schindler, Terri’s brother, said, “Our fight continues every day to defend the lives of vulnerable persons."

He said they are "threatened by laws which now have redefined feeding tubes as ‘artificial life support’ and also ‘medical futility’ laws that allow hospitals, nursing and hospice facilities and family members to abandon our fellow human beings to a torturous death by starvation and dehydration or by any other means."

“Our goal is to defend the rights of the severely brain-injured, the disabled, the elderly or anyone at risk of being needlessly killed, in the hope of preventing what happened to Terri from ever happening to another," Schindler told

"And it is our hope that the Catholic community will respect this incontrovertible truth confirmed by the USCCB yesterday," he said.

The document takes into account elaborations on Catholic teaching by Pope John Paul II and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome predated by the current directives.

Related web sites:
Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation –

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