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DNR orders and Church teaching
Question from JCW on 5/14/2001:

What does the Church teach about DNR (do not resuscitate) orders? Is resuscitation considered ordinary or extraordinary means? How is it determined?

Thank you, JCW

Answer by Fr.Stephen F. Torraco on 5/14/2001:

The Church's teaching on DNR (do not resuscitate) orders is contained in the Church's teaching on the moral distinction between ordinary (obligatory)and extraordinary (non-obligatory) medical treatment. This moral distinction is based upon the natural law teaching that one is obliged to preserve one's life, but not in the case in which the means of self-preservation are useless, or disproportionate to the goal of self-preservation.

Ordinary or proportionate medical treatment is treatment that one is obliged to undergo. Such treatment is useful, or proportionate to the goal of the restoration of health. Extraordinary or disproportionate treatment is medical treatment that one is not obliged to undergo because such treatment is useless or, causing or involving a grave burden on the patient or on someone else, is disproportionate to the goal of the restoration of health. What is to be considered ordinary or morally obligatory treatment is to be determined in the circumstances of each case.

Thus, if a patient has suffered brain damage to such an extent that survival will not include the ability to lead a life even approximating the normal, or if the disease processes in a patient have debilitated the patient beyond any hoipeful prognosis, it is very likely that a consideration of all of the circumstances of the individual case will lead to the sound moral judgment that artificial resuscitation, whether manual or mechanical, may be considered in that particular case to be a relatively extraordinary means of prolonging life. Once this judgment is reached, then the wishes of the patient become the operative norm for further treatment.

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