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Comment Regarding Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith Clarification Concerning Nutrition and Hydration for Patients in a Persistent Vegetative State

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following statement is being released by Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, president and chief executive office of the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA):

The Catholic health ministry is grateful for the clarification provided today by the Holy See's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) concerning the provision of artificially administered nutrition and hydration to patients in a persistent vegetative state.

The brief document, approved by Pope Benedict XVI, is in response to two questions posed to the congregation by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The questions were prompted by reactions to the allocution of Pope John Paul II in March 2004 that dealt with the use of feeding tubes in patients in a persistent vegetative state.

Patients in a persistent vegetative state, while making up a very small percent of all patients, pose some of the most challenging and heart wrenching situations for families and caregivers. This clarification affirms the Church's belief in the value of their lives in spite of the circumstances of their condition.

The CDF document makes two important points. First, the provision of artificially administered nutrition and hydration to patients in a vegetative state is morally obligatory except when they cannot be assimilated by the patient's body (and, hence, don't achieve their purpose) or cause significant discomfort. Second, artificially administered nutrition and hydration cannot be discontinued for a patient in a persistent vegetative state even when physicians have determined with reasonable certainty that the patient will never recover consciousness. This is due to the fact that the person in a persistent vegetative state retains his or her fundamental human dignity and, therefore, must be provided ordinary and proportionate care which includes nutrition and hydration.

In addition to welcoming this reaffirmation of the value of each life, CHA is pleased to see the Catholic bishops of the United States affirm the wonderful witness to life by families, caregivers, and those who labor each day to make facilities for the care of these vulnerable patients possible.

SOURCE The Catholic Health Association
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