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'Catholics Supporting the Denial of 'Nutrition and Hydration' are not in Communion With the Church'

By Barbara Kralis

May 3, 2005
Updated June 3, 2005

İBarbara Kralis 2005
Catholic Online

It is a rare person who has not heard of the recent cruel homicide of the Florida woman, Terri Schiavo.  Everyone, it seemed, had a strong opinion on the subject.  Yet, despite clear moral teachings on the evils of euthanasia, there are 'Catholics' who boast support for euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.[1] 

Are these 'Catholics' badly formed and ignorant of their Church's infallible teachings on the dignity and sacredness of all human life?  Is it the fault of Catholic clergy for not preaching the Church's teachings from the pulpit? 

In view of the clarity and frequency of the Church's up-to-date teachings, which reflect modern medical advances on the subject, these Catholics dissenting opinions seem to be willful and conscious disregard of those infallible teachings.  Let us look at one example.

Most recently, a devout Catholic contacted this writer.  She bemoaned that she could not persuade members of her Catholic family to reject the evils of euthanasia, especially in light of Terri's Schiavo's plight.  Her own Catholic mother, who begot fourteen children, recently instructed the family not to allow the ordinary means and palliative care of 'nutrition and hydration' if she should ever require it.  The daughter provided a copy of the mother's specific written directive:

"I do not want to be kept alive by a feeding tube.  I do not want to be a 'burden' to anyone.  I do not want to be kept on 'life support.'  If I become seriously ill, just 'pull' everything and let me go 'naturally.'  If the 'quality of my life' is not good, I do not wish to remain alive."

The daughter next asked:

"My mother agreed with Michael Schiavo action to murder his wife, Terri, and Mom was very upset that I would suggest anything other than pulling Terri's feeding tube. She said she had no quality of life.  What does the Catholic Church teach for people who are 'terminal' who choose starvation and dehydration and who actually put that in writing?"

Unfortunately, in most of these euthanasia cases, the families hotly disagree among themselves about whether 'nutrition and hydration' should be withdrawn.  The family quarrel usually ends up in legal hassles and broken relationships. 

Bishop Rene Henry Gracida, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, in an interview with this writer, offers the Church's teaching on this problem:[2]

"Some Catholics would argue that they are simply following their conscience and that the Church allows them to do so.  They choose to forget that the Church says that one can only safely follow an INFORMED CONSCIENCE, i.e., a conscience that has been formed and illuminated by the teachings of the Church.  The Church has given clear and explicit guidelines regarding the removal of a feeding tube through which 'nutrition and hydration' is supplied to a sick person.

"All persons who wish to remain in communion with the Catholic Church, to receive Holy Communion and the other Sacraments, must assent to the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals.[3]

"If a person supports euthanasia and assisted-suicide through the illicit rejection or removal of a feeding tube, they are not in communion with the Church.  They have separated themselves from the Church."

A terminally ill or dying person does have the right to refuse 'extra-ordinary' medical means so long as nothing is done or omitted with the intention to hasten or cause the person's death.  Compassionate family members, doctors and nurses will continue to provide the person with ordinary care and treatment, which include nutrition and hydration, comfort care, and effective pain management.

Julie Grimstad, Executive Director of 'Life is Worth Living, Inc.,' explained in an interview with this writer the very important differences between 'ordinary' and 'extra-ordinary' means:

"What constitutes "ordinary" (obligatory) and "extra-ordinary" (optional) medical means varies with the individual circumstances.  The same means could be judged ordinary in one situation and extra-ordinary in another.  For instance, a ventilator may be used temporarily to save the life of a critically injured person or it may be used to prolong the life of a dying person.  In the first instance, a ventilator usually would be ...

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