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Bishops distribute guidelines on nutrition and hydration obligation

In the wake of confusion created by Pope John Paul II's 20 March statement on the treatment of patients in a vegetative state, the Australian Bishops last week published a leaflet containing a "Briefing Note" on the "Obligation to Provide Nutrition and Hydration".

The leaflet, which is available for download on the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference website, is the result of a cooperative effort between the Bishops Committee for Health Care, the Bishops Committee for Doctrine and Morals, and Catholic Health Australia.

The Holy Father's statement occurred in an address to doctors, palliative care specialists, lawyers and ethicists in Rome for a conference titled "Life Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific advances and and ethical dilemmas."

In his address, the Pope spoke of the obligation to provide nutrition and hydration to patients who are commonly said to be "in a persistent vegetative state (PVS)".

This subsequently challenged many Catholic health care institutions and workers to modify their policies and practices.

The leaflet comments that the Pope's statement is an "application of traditional Catholic teaching". The teaching in question says neither that nutrition and hydration must always be given, nor that they are never to be given, to unresponsive and/or incompetent patients.

"Rather, the Pope affirms the presumption in favour of giving nutrition and hydration to all patients, even by artificial means, while recognising that in particular cases this presumption gives way to the recognition that the provision of nutrition and hydration would be futile or unduly burdensome."

Briefing Note on the Obligation to provide Nutrition and Hydration (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 3/9/04)

Australian ethicist rethinks position on 'vegetative state' (CathNews 12/7/04)
Norman Ford: The debate goes on (The Tablet 1/5/04)
US Catholic hospitals to uphold living wills (CathNews 19/4/04)
Calls for euthanasia ignore real needs of dying and caregivers (NZ Catholic 18/4/04)
Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, (US Conference of Catholic Bishops)
Catholic Health Australia
US hospitals in dilemma over vegetative patients (CathNews 13/4/04)
Experts say pope's speech on feeding tubes settles some key issues (Catholic News Service 7/4/04)
Australian bioethicists debate letting life end (CathNews 30/3/04)
Vegetative State Conference website
Looking to Explain Suffering (Zenit 28/3/04)
Pope calls removing feeding tubes immoral (CathNews 22/3/04)
Pope speaks up for coma patients (Daily Telegraph 21/3/04)
Pope decries care shutdowns (Boston Globe/Associated Press 21/3/04)
Pontifical Academy for Life

6 Sep 2004