By a 214-4 majority, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to strengthen its requirement that Roman Catholic hospitals insert and maintain nutrition and hydration tubes for patients in persistent vegetative states.
Catholic bishops strengthen life-support guidelines
One expert in canon law, Baker Daniels attorney Paul Danello, said the change could launch “a whole series of Terri Schiavo cases” by forcing Catholic hospital administrators into the center of a widening conflict between Catholic moral teaching and state laws on patients' rights. Terri Schiavo died in 2005 after a high-profile legal battle over her husband Michael's wishes to have her disconnected after 15 years on life support.
Prior to the amendment, the bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services told caregivers at U.S. Catholic hospitals to use a presumption in favor of using the life-sustaining technologies. The new rule incorporates the stronger position of the conference's Committee on Pro-Life Activities that all patients in vegetative states receive life support except those “close to inevitable death” from underlying conditions.
The bishops' directives forbid euthanasia, and allow Catholic hospitals to disregard the wishes of patients if they are contrary to Catholic moral teaching. One in six patients in the U.S. receive their care in Catholic hospitals, according to the Catholic Health Association.
The vote at the bishops' November General Meeting in Baltimore was the first time since 2001 that the religious leaders have amended the rules governing Catholic hospitals.
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