Vatican health official backs living wills

Reiterating the Church's opposition to euthanasia, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, who heads the Vatican's program of pastoral assistance to health care workers, has come out in favour of living wills that allow terminal patients to decide in advance how they wish to be treated.

In an interview published Thursday in Italian daily La Stampa, Cardinal Barragan said although Church teaches that life must be safeguarded from its beginning until its natural end, the church is in favour of allowing terminally ill patients to opt against aggressive treatment, the Associated Press reports.

The Cardinal made his comments as an Italian Senate committee was hearing arguments over legislation to approve a "living will" which allows people to decide in advance how they want to be treated if they become incapacitated in the last stages of a terminal illness.

Some Italian politicians have viewed the measure with suspicion, warning that a living will could become a first step toward approving euthanasia.

"In no way, however, are we in favour of the idea of euthanasia - meaning that action, or omission - destined to cause the death of the patient," Cardinal Barragan insisted.

He added that hydrating and feeding a terminal patient could not be considered aggressive therapeutic treatment.

But the Church also opposes "those useless and disproportionate treatments before the imminent death of the patient, which have as sole consequence prolonging the agony", Cardinal Barragan concluded.

The current debate in Italy began after the Italian president received a plea from a man who can no longer walk, eat or breathe on his own because of muscular dystrophy.

The man had asked the president to legalise euthanasia so he could die, Associated Press said.

Vatican still opposed to euthanasia but supports 'living wills'"> (Toronto Globe and Mail, 19/10/06)
Top Vatican official reiterates opposition to euthanasia, favors 'living will' (International Herald Tribune, 19/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan (Catholic-Hierarchy)
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan (Wikipedia)

Life Office hails ban on suicide messaging (CathNews, 13/1/06)
Bishop says Schiavo case may influence Australian laws (CathNews, 31/3/05)
Pope begs Dutch authorities to rethink mercy killing of babies (CathNews? 25/1/05)
US Catholic hospitals to uphold living wills (CathNews, 19/4/04)

20 Oct 2006