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What does Church teach on end of life?

BALTIMORE (CNS): There is great misunderstanding among Catholics and others about Church teaching on whether and when life-sustaining medical treatment can or should be withdrawn says Marie Hilliard, a leading Catholic bioethicist in the United States of America.

Hilliard is the director of bioethics and public policy, as well as being a staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Centre in Philadelphia, which conducts about 2,000 consultations a year with families in distress who want to talk with an ethicist about Church teaching in light of their family situation.

She told CNS that people tell staff that they understand that dialysis can never be discontinued, or that a feeding tube is obligatory, even in cases where medically it is doing more harm than good.

“Persons who are dealing with crises need to be helped to understand in that situation what is the natural moral law,” Hilliard said, explaining, “The Church always deals with the good and trying to reach the good,” even when that means accepting the natural process of dying.

Hilliard explained that as outlined in the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Church teaches that patients may forgo extraordinary or disproportionate means of preserving life, which is defined as “those that in the patient’s judgment do not offer a reasonable hope of benefit or entail an excessive burden, or impose excessive expense on the family or the community.

Survey results recently released by the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project found that 57 per cent of Americans would tell their doctors to stop medical treatment if they had a disease with no hope of improvement and were suffering a great deal of pain.

However, at the same time, 35 per cent said they would tell the doctors to do everything possible to save their lives. Eight per cent say it depends or they do not know what to do.

But opinions varied greatly according to religion and ethnic groupings. Nearly two-thirds of white Catholics (65 per cent) said they would stop medical treatment under those circumstances, but only 38 per cent of Hispanic Catholics agreed.


Most likely to stop medical treatment are white mainline Protestants (72 per cent); and black Protestants are the least likely at 32 per cent.......

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