EWTN Catholic Q&A
Hospice Care
Question from John Carrere on 10-19-2012:

I have a friend who is in a local nursing home. He is under the guardianship of his 84 year old mother. In the last few months he has developed swallowing difficulties and is being served pureed food and thickened water/coffee etc. A former hospice nurse working at the facility has advised the mother not to have a feeding tube placed through the wall of his stomach. Since the man is not able to eat normally, he must be fed by one of the nursing home workers. He doesn't like the taste of the pureed food and eats just a few bites. However, if someone feeds him something he likes (milkshakes/puddings/ice cream)he readily eats. I am a friend of his profoundly Catholic mother. She is in a quandary about having the tube installed. I have said that I believe believe that the Church teaches that food and hydration can not be withheld. Due to dementia, some days the man says he wants the tube and some days he says he doesn't. He also has a "Living Will" which states he doesn't want any extraordinary means to keep him alive and now that he has dementia he cannot negate his "Living Well". Please state clearly what the Church teaches in this situation. Thanks for all you do.

Answer by Judie Brown on 10-19-2012:

Dear John,

The following excerpt is taken from the Catholic Catechism:

2276 Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.

2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

2278 Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

2279 Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.

I hope this is of help to you.

Judie Brown



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