Rod Dreher

Reader Helen writes:

I thought of your blog when I saw this post at the NY Times’s New Old Age blog. Apparently a new directive from Catholic bishops requires assisted nutrition and hydration in all Catholic hospitals and nursing homes, including for people in chronic and irreversible conditions.
This is interesting to me for a number of reasons. First is the question of authority, a topic you have covered extensively on your blog. I suspect many American Catholics will be outraged by this requirement if it conflicts with their own end-of-life wishes. The second reason is more personal. I wonder whether this is a humane and loving rule, and whether it is truly required by scripture and Catholic tradition. My father-in-law died last fall, after an eight-month battle with cancer. It was comparatively short, but it was brutal. A requirement like this would have made a Catholic facility out of the question for the end of his life. Assisted nutrition and hydration would have had to be forced on him, and would literally have been physical torture for him. The only way he would have allowed it, even in his very weakened state, is if he was sedated into a stupor, which would have been very upsetting for everyone in the family.

More information about this directive and its implications on Kaiser Health News.
As far as I’m concerned, Catholic hospitals have the right to do this. Nobody is forced to go to a Catholic hospital, and though I disagree with the rigidity of their position, I respect their right to set their own policies in this matter. That said, it does seem to me to be inhumane, to require Catholic hospitals to override living wills of patients who have affirmed in writing, and in advance, that they do not want extraordinary measures taken to save their lives if they are in an irreversible condition. I don’t see that permitting the terminally ill to die a natural death, as they request, is morally the same thing as assisted suicide. Do you? We’re going to discuss this without any Catholic-bashing.
Anyway, this is startling news for non-Catholic patients who depend on Catholic hospitals for care. They need to be informed that their living wills may be null and void inside the Catholic facility.

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