Christian Bioethics 17 (2):105-122 (2011)

Some hold that the revision to directive 58 of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services—which sought to incorporate the language of Pope John Paul II’s 2004 statement regarding the obligation to provide patients in a persistent vegetative state—represents a threat to patient’s end-of-life decisions. I argue this position is unfounded. The revision to the directive, and the statements that inspired this linguistic modification, do not represent a substantive change in the Church’s teaching. I support this position based on two claims. First, in his statement, the Holy Father speaks of food and water and care personnel’s obligation to provide them as relative to the patient’s status as a person. That is, relative to the patient’s human nature, food and water represent a per se useful means for preserving life and, as such, should be considered ordinary and obligatory. Second, since his teaching is directed toward care personnel, John Paul II does not discuss the patient’s judgment of the means with the assumption that the Tradition has already clearly established the legitimacy of patients refusing means they judge to be extraordinary. Finally, I argue that one of the effects of the Pope’s statement is that it manages to reaffirm the Church’s teaching on euthanasia and ordinary and extraordinary means without institutionalizing a particular theologian’s vision of anthropology.
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DOI 10.1093/cb/cbr016
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