The Catholic Church is clearly and unambiguously opposed to euthanasia, the intentional ending of life (through an act or refusal to act) as an attempt to alleviate suffering. But at the same time, there are clear limits to what one ought to do to preserve life. We should respect and love life, but we shouldn’t cling to it madly, nor enter death’s door kicking and screaming. There’s a huge theoretical difference between accepting death when your time has come, and assisted suicide through the deprivation of feeding tubes.
The beginning premise is this: it is fundamentally immoral and unchristian to refuse to give food to the hungry, and water to the needy. It violates even the most basic test Christ forewarns of at the Last Judgment (see Matthew 25:35 and 25:42), and it makes no difference whether the food and drink are administered artificially or not. The general rule of thumb for feeding tubes, to separate acceptable (and praiseworthy) acts of facing one’s own death bravely, and morally unacceptable acts of ending one’s own (or another’s) life, even for “therapeutic” reasons is this: the cause of death must be the disease itself, rather than the deprivation of food and water.
Here are some hypotheticals:
- In “a situation where a person is actively dying, one’s death being imminent (presumably within a few days),” is it obligatory to provide nutrition and hydration, even artificially?
- “What if it is possible that a person may live indefinitely but need to be artificially fed?”
- “What if, after a feeding tube is placed, the nutrition and hydration is not being assimilated into the person’s body?”
- “What if, after a feeding tube is placed, grave medical complications arise because of the presence of the feeding tube?”
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted raises, and answers, these questions skillfully here (see sections 9-12). The entire article is succinct and very readable, which is unusual on this subject. Bishop Olmsted wisely, in my opinion, limits himself merely to the question of “feeding tubes,” without addressing other end-of-life decisions. Trying to tackle the whole beast of euthanasia and end-of-life judgments can be hard: the good Bishop of Phoenix has painted a clear piece of the puzzle.