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Major palliative care conference at the Vatican

Doctors, research scientists, and ethicists from 49 different countries have gathered in Rome for a four-day Holy See-sponsored conference on the treatment of patients in a "vegetative state".

The Pontifical Academy for Life has convened the conference at the Augstinianum University, which begins today. The 375 international participants will hear presentations from 40 experts.

The conference aims to discuss ethical issues arising from new developments in medical science that prolong life. It will consider when, or whether, it is ethically justifiable to suspend treatment of a patient in a "vegetative state".

President of the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations Dr Gianluigi Gigli told reporters that the most controversial issue is the provision of nutrition and water to the patient.

The Church teaches that neither doctors nor patients are bound to use "disproportionate means" to prolong life. But Dr Gigli argues strongly that "nutrition and hydration are not a form of treatment, and they are not disproportionate. This is care that is due to patients."

Alan Shewmon, a neurology professor at UCLA in the United States highlighted the problem of inaccurate diagnosis, when patients recover their faculties, long after being pronounced permanently "vegetative".

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, the vice-president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said: "As long as there is life in the person, that person continues to live in all his dignity, his all his soul."

Rome conference examines end-of-life care (Catholic World News 16/3/04)

International congress on vegetative state (Vatican Information Service 16/3/04)
Pontifical Academy for Life

17 Mar 2004