The following was previously published in the Western Catholic Reporter, for the Edmonton Archdiocese.
|Pope John Paul II|
20, 2004, Pope John Paul II delivered an address to an international congress
on "Life-sustaining treatments and vegetative state: Scientific advances
and Ethical Dilemmas." The pope dealt directly with the issue of doctors
withholding medical treatments and nutrition and hydration (food and water)
from comatose patients.
happy to see the pontiff address the derogatory nature of the term
"vegetative," and "vegetable," and how some people use these
words to cast doubts on the value and personal dignity of people in comatose
Not a vegetable
rejected this thinking saying, "In opposition to such trends of thought, I
feel the duty to reaffirm strongly that the intrinsic value and personal dignity
of every human being do not change, no matter what the concrete circumstances
of his or her own life. A man, even if seriously ill and disabled in the
exercise of his highest functions, is and always will be a man, and he will
never become a "vegetable" or an "animal."
grateful for these words. In a society increasingly hostile to people with
serious disabilities, we need to know that our value and humanity is affirmed
and embraced. It took on increased significance from the pope who, through his
own mounting physical challenges, stood in solidarity with the world's disabled
and suffering people.
It was as
though John Paul was using his afflictions to challenge western society's
superficial preoccupation with youth, beauty and health.
later, after throat surgery, the dying pope made a surprise appearance at
the window of Gemelli Polyclinic
hospital in Rome to convey a prepared message.
at Christ and following him with patient trust, we succeed in understanding
that every human form of pain contains in itself a divine promise of salvation
and joy, ...."
body but strong in spirit, John Paul II continued: "I would like that this
message of comfort and hope reaches everyone, especially those going through
difficult moments, and who suffer in body and spirit."
Basic necessities for life
profoundly disabled still deserve food, water, cleanliness and warmth. This is
basic minimal care necessary for all life. In his 2004 address to the
International Congress on Life-sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State, a
year before his death, John Paul II did not mince words. He stated that the
administration of food and water, whether taken orally or by artificial means,
is a "natural means of preserving life, not a medical act." By saying
this, I believe he was countering the view that food and water can be
considered medical treatment.
not as outlandish as it may seem. I was a member of the Ethics Committee of a
major Edmonton hospital for over 10 years; I actually heard nutrition and
hydration referred to as a form of medical treatment. (Imagine trying to pay
for a Big Mac with your Alberta Health Care or Blue Cross card.)
occasions at the end of life, or final stages of disease, that the human body
can no longer process or even tolerate nutrition and hydration. That's a
different scenario where continuation of them would be a burden to the patient
and increases their suffering.
of withdrawal of medical treatments, there are legitimate contexts for
withdrawal of medical procedures – when continuation is considered over zealous
– and not able to alter the outcome of impending death. The use of painkillers
like barbiturates can be used to alleviate the suffering of a dying patient
even though it may shorten their days, as long as hastening inevitable death is
not the intent of the action.
down to motive and intentions of those charged with care of the comatose
person. Was the motive for withdrawing medical treatment to kill the patient?
Was the intention of withdrawing treatment to hasten death? Human motive and
intent behind actions or inactions are at the foundation of Christian morality.
It's written on
intuitively that it's a sin to wish or cause the death of another human being,
especially those who are weak, vulnerable and can not defend themselves. The
late Pope John Paul II was merely confirming what we know in our heart of
hearts to be true. God's law is written on our hearts. (See Jeremiah 31:33,
Romans 2:14-15, 2 Corinthians 3:3, Hebrews 8:10, 10:16.). Every human life has
inherent value and innate dignity.
why there is not social peace with other critical life issues such as abortion
- contrary to what a former prime minister said. After decades of abortion on
demand, it continues to fester in the nation's conscience and tatter the social
fabric of Canada.
how abortion is presented or marketed to the public,
there's still something
deeply offensive about it at the most primal human level. The same will be true
with euthanasia if we adopt public policy allowing it.
difference is that with euthanasia the intended target for extermination is
visible, they have a history that people remember. The doctor who does the
killing may surely operate behind closed doors with the utmost discretion and with
efficient, sanitized, compassionate aloofness.
victim's body must still be buried or incinerated along with human conscience
and decency. A new round of public angst will fester and rot Canada's soul.
Post a Comment