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Pope calls removing feeding tubes immoral

Pope John Paul II said on Saturday that the removal of feeding tubes from people in vegetative states is immoral, and that no judgment on their quality of life could justify such "euthanasia by omission".

The Holy Father made the comments to participants of a Vatican conference on the ethical dilemmas of dealing with incapacitated patients, entering into a debate that has sparked court battles in the US and elsewhere.

He said even the medical terminology used to describe people in so-called "persistent vegetative states" was degrading to them. He said no matter how sick a person was, "he is and will always be a man, never becoming a 'vegetable' or 'animal."'

In a vegetative state, patients are awake but not aware of themselves or their environment. The condition is different from a coma, in which the patient is neither awake nor aware. Both, however, are states in which the patient is devoid of consciousness.

Providing food and water to such patients should be considered natural, ordinary and proportional care - not artificial medical intervention, the Pope told members of the conference, which was organised by the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and the Pontifical Academy for Life.

"As such, it is morally obligatory," to continue such care, he said.

Since no one knows when a patient in a vegetative state might awaken, "the evaluation of the probability, founded on scarce hope of recovery after the vegetative state has lasted for more than a year, cannot ethically justify the abandonment or the interruption of minimal care for the patient, including food and water," he said.

Pope Declares Feeding Tube Removal Immoral (The Guardian/Associated Press 20/3/04)

Pope speaks up for coma patients (Daily Telegraph 21/3/04)
Pope decries care shutdowns (Boston Globe/Associated Press 21/3/04)
Major palliative care conference at the Vatican (CathNews 17/3/04)
International congress on vegetative state (Vatican Information Service 16/3/04)
Pontifical Academy for Life

Pope Speeds Three Nuns, Priest Toward Sainthood (Reuters 21/3/04)
Pope to Beatify 4 From Spain and Italy (Zenit 19/3/04)

22 Mar 2004