“Our once great western Christian civilization is dying. If this matters to followers of Jesus Christ, then we must set aside our denominational differences and work together to strengthen the things that remain and reclaim what has been lost. Evangelicals and Catholics must stand together to re-establish that former Christian culture and moral consensus. We have the numbers and the organization but the question is this: Do we have the will to win this present spiritual battle for Jesus Christ against secularism? Will we prayerfully and cooperatively work toward a new Christian spiritual revival ― or will we choose to hunker down in our churches and denominationalisms and watch everything sink into the spiritual and moral abyss of a New Dark Age?” - Mark Davis Pickup

Friday, October 26, 2007

Euthanasia in Catholic hospitals?

I write a column for Canada’s Western Catholic Reporter newspaper. One of my recent articles was published under the title “Withholding water and nutrition means murder” (see http://www.wcr.ab.ca/columns/markpickup/2007/markpickup100807.shtml). It dealt with the subject of euthanasia by withholding food and water from dying or disabled people.

My Column concluded by saying,

“no matter how far my aggressive, degenerative multiple sclerosis goes, my Church and Catholic health care providers (or Muslim health care providers for that matter) will stand for my inherent human dignity and my right to proper, caring and humane medical care. They will not let my humanity be diminished or stripped from me. Or to use the words of Pope John Paul, "A man, even if seriously ill or disabled in the exercise of his higher functions, is and always will be a man, and he will never become a "vegetable" or an "animal."

Shortly after publication, I received a letter in an envelope with no return address. I was led to believe the author was a priest. He was wary – for whatever reason -- of identifying himself. I will call him Father X.

He corrected me by saying said that “it is not a given thing that hydration etc. is given to a person inside an R.C. run institution.” Father X said he knows of a Canadian Catholic hospital where a nun was denied any hydration because she was dying; he informed me that the Sister’s “lips were cracked, etc.. It was appalling.”

Apparently another Roman Catholic facility encourages families not to hydrate dying family members. The case manager of that facility says that patients die quicker without water. No kidding. Euthanasia tends to do that. Withholding food and hydration is nothing short of torture and murder.

Assuming Father X is legitimate should I believe the letter?

I don’t know, but after the Vatican recently cleared any confusion that may have existed about withholding food and water from patients, we must demand adherence to Church teaching in Catholic health care institutions. The Vatican said unequivocally (as they have before) that maintaining that providing nutrition and hydration to dying people is morally obligatory. I am inclined to think that there may have been occasions where some Catholic health care facilities may have played loose with their understanding of Catholic teaching on withholding food and water from dying people to in order to hasten their deaths, and feigned moral confusion. After all, hospital beds are at a premium.
Pursuing the deaths of patients must stop.

Unfortunately, the anonymous nature of the letter is cowardly. What am I supposed to do with it? I can’t approach the case manager of the facility the mystery priest identified. I do not even know if he is actually a priest: the letter was signed Fr. ── .

It may be a lie. That’s why I am not identifying the facility that was named. If the accusation is not true and I identify the facility, I would have brought discredit upon a reputable Catholic health institution.

I invite Fr. X to write to me at my personal Email address MarkPickup@shaw.ca so we can discuss the substance of his letter more.

Until then, I must file it under ‘hearsay’ and invite all Catholic health acute care hospitals, nursing homes and auxiliary health facilities to take the high road and behave according to the direction of Catholic moral teaching and not participate or advocate any practice designed to hasten a patient’s death.

See Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos 2276-2279).
Vatican document about nutrition and hydration (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070801_risposte-usa_en.html)
Mark Pickup

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