Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Nebraska Humane Care Amendment: Part 5

Here is the next in the series of a detailed FAQ statement provided by the organizers of the Nebraska Humane Care Amendment. This amendment, which will be on the ballot this fall, is designed to put some brakes to the ever-increasing euthanasia movement, especially the use of "futile care" doctrines which disguise the dehumanization of the sick

Parts One, Two, Three and Four can be found simply by clicking on these links. There will yet be a couple more of these installments to come. You might also want to read these recent Vital Signs Blog posts which are related to the issue: "When God Is Ready" ---
"Scary Developments from the U.N." -- and "The Eagerness of Euthanasia."

But now, the next in the series of the Nebraska Humane Care Amendment FAQ...

What has the Catholic Church said on this subject of basic food and water care?

Pope John Paul II, in his Papal Allocution of March 20, 2004, said that even the sick person in a so-called “vegetative” state awaiting recovery or a natural end,

…still has the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc.), and to the prevention of complications related to his confinement to bed. He also has the right to appropriate rehabilitative care and to be monitored for clinical signs of eventual recovery. 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, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering.

The obligation to provide the "normal care due to the sick in such cases" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Iura et Bona, p. IV) includes, in fact, the use of nutrition and hydration (cf. Pontifical Council "Cor Unum", Dans le Cadre, 2, 4, 4; Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, Charter of Health Care Workers, n. 120). The evaluation of probabilities, founded on waning hopes for recovery … cannot ethically justify the cessation or interruption of minimal care for the patient, including nutrition and hydration. Death by starvation or dehydration is, in fact, the only possible outcome as a result of their withdrawal. In this sense it ends up becoming, if done knowingly and willingly, true and proper euthanasia by omission.

In this regard, I recall what I wrote in the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, making it clear that "by euthanasia in the true and proper sense must be understood an action or omission which by its very nature and intention brings about death, with the purpose of eliminating all pain"; such an act is always "a serious violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person" (n. 65).

Still, don’t some Catholic theologians, professors, “bioethicists” and health care executives take issue with the Pope’s teaching authority above?

Of course; there are always dissenters. But if the Pope is Catholic and speaks authoritatively for the Church, contrary/schismatic voices appear to be overreaching on claims to represent Roman Catholicism. According to Pope Pius XII, "[I]f the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians." (Humani Generis, August 12, 1950, para. 20).

What do other religious and human rights leaders have to say?

· “Human beings are made in the image of God and are, therefore, of inestimable worth. God has given people the highest dignity of all creation. Such human dignity prohibits euthanasia, that is actively causing a person's death.” (National Association of Evangelicals, 1994).

· Children and adults with significant disabilities have been especially vulnerable to violations of their fundamental rights, including the denial of access to life-sustaining care and treatment, such as routine medical treatment and food and fluids…. Absent clear and convincing evidence of the desires of people with disabilities to decline life-sustaining care or treatment, such care and treatment should not be withheld or withdrawn unless death is genuinely imminent and the care or treatment is objectively futile and would only prolong the dying process….When doubt exists as to whether to provide life-sustaining care and treatment a presumption must always be made in favor of providing such care and treatment. (Statement of Common Principles on Life-Sustaining Care and Treatment of People with Disabilities, endorsed by the American Association of People with Disabilities, plus 37 other disability-rights organizations).

· There is a growing need "to counteract a false understanding of compassion in our culture which claims that terminating the lives of those who are weak and helpless is a compassionate act". (The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, 1992)

· WHEREAS, the right to food and water is a basic human right; and WHEREAS, the past few years have seen highly publicized legal battles seeking to remove restrictions on starvation and dehydration of people with cognitive disabilities; and WHEREAS, numerous states have enacted statutes removing restrictions on the starvation and dehydration of people with cognitive disabilities; and WHEREAS, many hospitals have enacted "futility" policies that enable medical providers to overrule the wishes of individuals with disabilities and their families when the medical professionals devalue the life of the person in question; and WHEREAS, twenty-five national disability groups have adopted a position, in response to the Terri Schiavo case in Florida, opposing nonvoluntary starvation and dehydration; THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT, NCIL supports legislation that restores and maintains restrictions on surrogate decisions for withholding of food and water via tube. Specifically, legislation should only allow for withholding of food and water in the presence of "clear and convincing evidence" of the person's wishes or when the person's medical condition renders them incapable of digesting or absorbing the nutrition and hydration so that its provision would not contribute to sustaining the person's life. BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that centers for independent living in each state are encouraged to advocate for legislation and other public policies to establish or restore constitutional restrictions on the starvation and dehydration of people with cognitive disabilities. (National Council on Independent Living, 7/14/05)

· “Jewish tradition holds the preservation of human life as one of its supreme moral values. It takes precedence over virtually all other moral values. Nevertheless, Judaism -- acutely linked to the reality of the human condition - realizes there are circumstances in which a person might long for death. Even with this appreciation of our human reality, Jewish Law does not reduce the mandate that we preserve life, even under the most challenging conditions. Judaism does not support “physician assisted suicide” nor does it support the withdrawal of life support from critically ill persons, as we recognize that even those who suffer the most severe physical and mental disabilities bear the Divine Image. (Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, 3/21/05)

· "Death from dehydration and starvation is a brutal and gruesome form of death. The tongue and lips crack and bleed. The eyes recede into their orbits. The skin becomes so sensitive it peels off upon firm contact. The lining of the nose can crack and bleed. Dried brain cells can cause convulsions. There is nothing necessarily dignified about dying from the slow and torturous process of being starved to death." (Family Research Council, March 22, 2005)