First question: Is the administration of food and water (whether by natural or artificial means) to a patient in a “vegetative state” morally obligatory except when they cannot be assimilated by the patient’s body or cannot be administered to the patient without causing significant physical discomfort?
Response: Yes. The administration of food and water even by artificial means is, in principle, an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life. It is therefore obligatory to the extent to which, and for as long as, it is shown to accomplish its proper finality, which is the hydration and nourishment of the patient. In this way suffering and death by starvation and dehydration are prevented.
Second question: When nutrition and hydration are being supplied by artificial means to a patient in a “permanent vegetative state”, may they be discontinued when competent physicians judge with moral certainty that the patient will never recover consciousness?
Response: No. A patient in a “permanent vegetative state” is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means.
An accompanying Commentary gives some historical info and reiterates:
…. the provision of water and food, even by artificial means, always represents a natural means for preserving life, and is not a therapeutic treatment. Its use should therefore be considered ordinary and proportionate, even when the “vegetative state” is prolonged.
Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg has yet to comment on the matter.
Here’s a letter that Terri Schiavo’s brother wrote to him:
Speaking on behalf of my family, my intention was to write you a letter subsequent to my sister Terri Schiavo’s death in order to explain to you why I hold you more accountable for her horrific death than Michael Schiavo, his attorney, and even the judge that ordered her to die.
In something of a bitter irony, however, it wasn’t until I came across your recent article in the Tampa Tribune, where your own words succeeded in saying much of what I wanted to say, that I was finally motivated to write.
In the opening paragraph of your commentary, “The Homeless Are Challenge To Our Cities And Our Faith,” you said “The challenge of the homeless in St. Petersburg has made national news and it has been embarrassing to many people. I am convinced that both on Judgment Day and in history, we will most likely be judged not by the things which we might have considered personally important to ourselves in life but how we took care of others less fortunate.” A prophetic statement indeed – and one in complete conformity with the words of our Lord in Matthew 25:31-46.
You then went on to say in the beginning of the next paragraph, “The faces which may haunt each of us on Judgment Day may well be those of people who have approached us for assistance and were turned away.” Bishop Lynch, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Instead of writing a lengthy letter explaining the hypocrisy of your words, let me just say the
The barbarism and nightmare of Terri’s two week death by thirst and starvation will be forever seared into my family’s memory. It is incomprehensible to us that a nation supposedly built on basic Judeo- Christian principles would allow something so wicked to happen. That is, until one realizes that just as the Culture of Death made a triumphal entry into our nation in 1973, via legalized abortion, without so much as a whimper of protest from those with the God-given authority to stop it, so now our disabled and elderly are being targeted for death. The bottom line is, when apostolic grace and responsibility are abdicated, innocent people die.
Fortunately, my family was provided much needed comfort and strength by an enormous outpouring of prayers of support, including the unwavering support of the Holy See, which to this day continues to arrive for our family.
Even more uplifting are the stories we receive almost daily of how my sister has, in a special way, touched the hearts and changed the lives of so many people, not only in our country, but all over the world. So much so that there are efforts being made by people world-wide to promote Terri’s cause for beatification.
Terri’s legacy is one of life and love. Sadly, your legacy will be that of the shepherd that stood silently by as one of his innocent disabled lambs was slowly and needlessly slaughtered by removing her food and water – while you persistently ignored the cries of her family for help (“her family” being the ones who merely wanted to care for her.)
You should not need to be reminded of the many passages of Scripture that condemn the shepherds that “pasture themselves on their sheep,” or Christ’s admonition to St. Peter to “feed My lambs,” etc. As my family and I dedicate the remainder of our lives to saving other innocent lambs targeted by the Death Culture, I beg the Lord to spare us another successor of the apostles who would exhibit the same scandalous inaction and silence by which you remain complicit in my sister’s murder via euthanasia.
I realize that for the sake of my salvation I must come to a point to at least want to forgive you, Bishop Lynch, for aiding and giving comfort to the evildoers who took my sister’s innocent and vulnerable life (and yes, she was objectively more innocent and more vulnerable than perhaps any homeless person.) The Catholic Church however, has spoken on Terri’s case, and she has decreed in favor of Terri’s right to life and everything our family did to try to save her.
Your behaviors, in contrast, have brought scandal to the Universal Church and to the faithful, particularly here in Florida. Your indifference toward the Truth is appalling, but seems to be indicative of the all-too prevalent corruption of priestly formation in the 1960’s and 70’s, so perhaps your culpability is somewhat mitigated. Even so, the fact of my sister’s murder under your “pastoral care” is a fact you should acknowledge publicly.
This season of Lent is one well suited to seek public forgiveness and make public reparation for public scandal. At least until that happens, I regret that I must remain, as you said, the face that haunts you as someone that did approach you for assistance and was turned away.
May God have mercy on you, and may my holy sister Terri pray for us all.
Jesuit bioethicist John Paris is also silent.