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Vatican rules on sustenance for patients in permanent comas

By Rich Bowden, M&C Staff Writer Sep 14, 2007, 17:58 GMT

Vatican rules on sustenance for patients in permanent comas

Pope Benedict XVI (C) and abbot Gregor Ulrich Henckel-Donnersmarck (R) during a liturgical celebration at the Heiligenkreuz Abbey Stiftskirche in Heiligenkreuz, Austria 09 September 2007. EPA/ROBERT JAEGER

(M&C) - The Vatican has again ruled Friday that it is immoral to withhold food and drink from a person in a vegetative state even though they may never regain consciousness.

The doctrine, approved by Pope Benedict, came in response to a request from U.S. bishops for a Vatican ruling, just months following the death of an American woman Terri Schiavo in 2005 after her parents unsuccessfully challenged a court order to have her feeding tubes removed.

"A patient in a 'permanent vegetative state' is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means," the Vatican said in a statement.

The document from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will reignite debate within Catholic hospitals and caring facilities about how far doctors should go to preserve human life.

Interviewed on Vatican radio, Father Augustine Di Noia, the doctrinal department's undersecretary, said, "Life is a gift from God and the Church has consistently taught that it is a gift that is not subject to the determination and decision, really, of anyone -- including the person himself or herself who is ill," he said.

The Vatican was critical of the euthanasia of Terri Schiavo accusing the court of "arbitrarily" pronouncing her death.


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