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Vatican Affirms Church Teaching on Nutrition and Hydration for Individuals In 'Vegetative State'
Date:9/14/2007

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In response to a request by the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has reaffirmed the Catholic Church's teaching on providing nutrition and hydration to patients in a persistent "vegetative state."

The bishops presented two questions in a formal manner, known as a "dubium," to the Congregation. The reply was approved by Pope Benedict XVI.

The responses reaffirm the church position that patients in a "vegetative state" are living human beings with inherent dignity and deserve the same basic care as other patients. This basic care would include nutrition and hydration, even when provided through artificial assistance.

"The administration of food and water even by artificial means is, in principle, an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life," according to the Congregation's response. "It is therefore obligatory to the extent to which, and for as long as, it is shown to accomplish its proper finality, which is the hydration and nourishment of the patient. In this way suffering and death by starvation and dehydration are prevented."

The bishops also asked for clarification as to whether nutrition and hydration could be removed if physicians determined that the patient would never recover consciousness. The Congregation affirmed that the patient must receive "ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means" regardless of the prognosis of recovery of consciousness.

A Vatican commentary noted some possible exceptions.

"When stating that the administration of food and water is morally obligatory in principle, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does not exclude the possibility that, in very remote places or in situations of extreme poverty, the artificial provision of food and water may be physically impossible," it said.

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SOURCE United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
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