A Quote for Monday: Life, Death and Catholic Medical Choices

There’s a little–okay, a lot– of blogger guilt about how little I’ve written here this month about the book Life, Death and Catholic Medical Choices.  I truly believe this is a great, easy-to-read guide for people about the richness of our Catholic faith.  As I wrote about in my Catholic Post review of the book:


Just because someone slept at a Holiday Inn Express– or has read a lot of Church documents–doesn’t guarantee good results when one tries to charitably explain or defend Church teaching accurately, especially on complicated and critical issues of life and death.  In this area, what’s most needed is loving and well-formed professionals.  Two of these have written Life, Death & Catholic Medical Choices.  Take advantage of their wisdom and guidance, and keep this book on hand.”


I hope to write more about this concept during this week, to catch up for what I’ve missed conveying about this excellent resource and the necessity to “trust the professionals.”  In the meantime, I wanted to share with you an excerpt from the book.  The book is in a question and answer format, which makes it easy to read and reflect in short sections:


What is the difference between medical intervention and basic healthcare?


Medical interventions to restore health, alleviate pain, or prolong life usually require medical professionals.  Other activities such as ensuring cleanliness and warmth, feeding, the giving of water, and respecting the personal dignity of belong to basic healthcare, sometimes referred to as natural care.  Church statements give the impression that all forms of natural care are normally obligatory.  Of course there can come a time when it is unreasonable to force a dying person to eat or drink in the normal fashion because such as insistence is too burdensome for the patient and there is very little to be gained.  


Perhaps we should include spiritual care of the person under the heading of natural care.  Here, too, we need to be sensitive to the condition of the patient. Sometimes a faith-filled dying person may ask family members to tone down vocal prayers, as wonderful as they may be, because noise causes her pain or agitation.   There are appropriate and inappropriate times to raise spiritual matters with the sick and dying.


One may ask if artificial nutrition and hydration are a medical intervention or natural basic healthcare?  Interesting, John Paul II in 2004 stated:  “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.”  The pope goes on to state that, in principle, such nutrition and hydration are morally obligatory until they have attained their proper finality, which is providing nourishment and alleviating suffering.  


So, in the case where a patient’s body can no longer process such nutrition or hydration or its administration causes them more suffering, we would have a situation where what is normally natural care is causing more burden than benefit and would cease to be obligatory.  The fact that an action is termed natural care does not necessarily mean that it cannot be judged extraordinary in certain circumstances.  In fact, is it well-known that both Pope John Paul II and Cardinal John O’Connor refused nutrition and hydration when it had become an extraordinary measure for the preservation of life, when it had become an excessive burden, or when their bodies could no longer assimilate the nutrients provided.