EWTN Catholic Q&A
ventilators and brain death
Question from Theo on 11-23-2012:

Dear Judie, My question is about those sustained on life support that are declared "brain dead". When someone suffers a serious trauma and are put on life support and doctors later declare the person "brain dead" with no hope of recovery, is it morally acceptable for the family to discontinue a ventilator but maintain artificial food and hydration? Or must the family morally continue the ventilator in addition to a feeding tube and hydration? I know that food and water are ordinary care in such a scenario, but would the ventilator be ordinary or extraordinary care for a person declared "brain dead"? Can the family morally remove the ventilator and see if the person can breathe on their own in which case if they do not then they will pass away?

Answer by Judie Brown on 11-24-2012:


American Life League has published an article on the use of the ventilator when caring for "brain dead" patients. You can find it on line at http://www.all.org/nav/index/heading/OQ/cat/MjA2/id/MjU4Ng/

In the article, the author, Paul Byrne, MD, states

"Some medical conditions necessitate ventilator support for a short time; others for extended, perhaps indefinite, periods. It is important to understand that use of the ventilator itself is an aid to the patient. Life is protected and preserved with the aid of the ventilator. While the patient may need help adjusting his or her life to such necessary medical treatment, it would not be morally permissible to foreclose or discontinue ventilator support because the patient's life is considered no longer worth living."