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HEC Forum

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 145–159 | Cite as

Artificial Nutrition and Hydration in Catholic Healthcare: Balancing Tradition, Recent Teaching, and Law

  • David M. ZientekEmail author
Article

Abstract

Roman Catholics have a long tradition of evaluating medical treatment at the end of life to determine if proposed interventions are proportionate and morally obligatory or disproportionate and morally optional. There has been significant debate within the Catholic community about whether artificially delivered nutrition and hydration can be appreciated as a medical intervention that may be optional in some situations, or if it should be treated as essentially obligatory in all circumstances. Recent statements from the teaching authority of the church have attempted to clarify this issue, especially for those with a condition known as the persistent vegetative state. I argue that these recent teachings constitute a “general norm” whereby artificial nutrition and hydration are considered obligatory for most patients, but that these documents allow for exception in cases of complication from the means used to deliver nutrition and hydration, progressive illness, or clear refusal of such treatment by patients. While the recent clarifications do not constitute a major deviation from traditional understanding and will rarely conflict with advance directives or legal statutes, there may be rare instances in which remaining faithful to church teaching may conflict with legally enshrined patient prerogatives. Using the Texas Advance Directives Act as an example, I propose ways in which ethics committees can remain faithful to their Roman Catholic identity while respecting patient autonomy and state law pertaining to end of life health care.

Keywords

Artificial nutrition and hydration Persistent vegetative state Ordinary or proportionate means Extraordinary or disproportionate means Ethical and religious directives for catholic health care services Texas advance directives act 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Seton Medical CenterAustinUSA
  2. 2.Neiswanger Institute for BioethicsChicagoUSA

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