Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Sandro Magister wades in on the Italian who requested the disconnection of his respirator and subsequently died then was refused a Catholic funeral. More of the details are given in Magister's article. Apparently this man's request was as big a story in Italy as the Terri Schiavo story was here, and that may have influenced the decision about the funeral.

Still the question that the story raises in my mind is whether it is legitimate to cheat death with medical intervention in the first place, given that one may end up in a situation such as this?

I come to that question from this background--a story told to me by a member of my former liberal parish--a woman who spoke with a parish priest about feeding tubes for her father who had Alzheimers. The priest told her under no circumstances to allow for the feeding tube to be inserted because it would not then be possible to remove it.

According to the doctor who founded the Alzheimer's Association in Akron, Alz patients refuse food at the end of life. It is part of the process of dying from the disease. It is at that point where the question of whether to insert the tube or not comes into play. Inserting it prolongs life. But is doing so legitimate given the state of the rest of the Alzheimer's patient at that point. There is no possible hope for any sort of recovery, and giving nutrition means that another aspect of the disease will do the killing.

Who can judge for another what constitutes "burdensome", particularly when the patient is lucid? If we are permitted to refuse medical treatment that is "burdensome", and if that medical treatment is life-saving, then in a sense we commit suicide whenever we refuse it. Yet this is a suicide the Church approves, in theory if not in practice in this particular incident. That is how I see the situation in Italy. The man was lucid and he wanted the treatment discontinued, knowing full well that the consequences would be death. He did not ask to be euthanized, which is another matter entirely and involves direct intervention to bring death about.

Whether he had asked for this discontinuation once or two hundred times over a span of months or years does not change the pertinent facts. God may sentence us to a life of pain and suffering. If that is our fate, we can only pray that He will grant us the grace to endure it. But God is not contained in the machine or the medical intervention, and God is fully capable of circumventing its use and maintaining life if He so desires. Artificial means should not be elevated to the status of God's life-giving choice. They are a means to cheat death. The moral question, IMHO, is much more should they be used in the first place given that they circumvent God's choice, not whether they can morally be discontinued at the request of a lucid patient.

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