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Church worried about implications of right-to-die go-ahead

The Catholic Church has warned that yesterday's Melbourne court decision allowing the cessation of the artificial tube-feeding of a 68 year old woman, places vulnerable people at risk.

Justice Stuart Morris ruled that the artificial food and hydration being provided to the woman, known only as "BWV" was a medical procedure rather than palliative care, and therefore could be refused.

The judge said Public Advocate Julian Gardner, who is the woman's guardian, would now be able "to decide, on behalf of BWV, whether it is now time to allow her to die with dignity".

Fr Anthony Fisher OP of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family said the Church is worried not only about the implications of the decision on other vulnerable people, but also on the medical practices performed by doctors in Catholic-run hospitals and nursing homes.

"There [is] now a very real concern that our healthcarers are not forced to do things that are contrary to their principles," he said.

The Catholic Church had submitted evidence before the trial.

Joseph Santamaria, the lawyer representing the Archbishop of Melbourne and Catholic Health Australia (CHA) said the woman's death was not imminent and her artificial feeding was "not unreasonable".

According to CHA's code of ethical standards, treatment may be legitimately withheld or withdrawn from a patient if it is "therapeutically futile, overly-burdensome to the patient or not reasonably available without disproportionate hardship to the patient, carers or others."

CHA representative Sr Liz Hepburn IBVM explained in response to queries that, what is considered "reasonable" must be interpreted on a case-by-case basis.

This is in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church "which declines to make a definitive statement for all cases," she said.

The Age/

Woman wins the right to die (The West Australian)
Woman to `die with dignity' (The Advertiser)
Verdict in 'Right-to-Die' Test Case Awaited in Australia (
Tube-feeding case about rights, court told (The Age 20/5/03)
Tube-feed case could rewrite law on homicide (The Age (21/5/03)

30 May 2003