Social work and end-of-life care

Social work is important in end-of-life care

Artificial hydration & nutrition: a Catholic view misunderstands doctrine and healthcare reality

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A Catholic website (American) states absolutely that it is Catholic teaching that artificial nutrition and hydration must be continued until death, except in what are claimed to be rare cases where this will make people uncomfortable because they cannot assimilate it, accompanied by the view that this is starvation. But many healthcare professionals would say this is not rare at all right at the end of life; people’s bodies naturally reduce their nutrition and hydration requirements. The website cites a Vatican statement that stopping artificial nutrition and hydration is against Catholic teaching. But if you go there…

…this is not what it says at all. The Vatican statement is solely concerned with people in a ‘permanent vegetative state’, following a controversial American case of a situation that many healthcare professionals would disagree about. The official statement is mainly about not withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration to speed the death of people in this position. It really does not refer to people who are in the last few hours of dying, where withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration is routine, as in the Liverpool Care Pathway, a well-regarded protocol for caring for dying people.

The website represents what is claimed to be an ethical view based on over-the-top interpretation of Catholic doctrine, when the official Catholic view is much more reasonable.

The Catholic website rather charmingly presents its statements of doctrine as though they were on parchment. And the guy who signs them is called a ‘Prefect’. Rather confirms one’s impression of Catholic hierarchy: do the prefects have fags?

(For my fairly large number of American readers, ‘fags’ at high-prestige English private schools, including Eton College, which educated the heir to the throne, are junior boys who, I understand, do domestic tasks for the senior boys, which is called ‘fagging’. Prefects were senior boys who historically were entitled to ‘beat’, that is cane, the juniors. I just thought you ought to know about some of the stranger traditions of the British upper classes.)

Q&A from Catholic website, Our Sunday Visitor: Church’s teaching on end-of-life care.

Vatican statement: Statement by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, 2007.

Information about the Liverpool Care Pathway: Marie Curie Palliative Care Institute, Liverpool.


Written by Malcolm Payne

6 August 2012 at 12:38 pm

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