WASHINGTON (March 9, 2005) — Cardinal William H. Keeler, chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities, stressed Church teaching on nutrition and hydration in a March 9 statement.
His remarks followed a statement by the bishops of Florida who recently spoke out regarding the case of Terri Schiavo, a woman at the heart of a controversy over withholding nutrition and hydration from people with cognitive disabilities.
Cardinal Keeler's statement follows.
The case of Terri Schindler Schiavo in Florida has focused national attention on the plight of patients diagnosed as being in a "vegetative" state.
In a speech last year, Pope John Paul II affirmed the inherent dignity of every human being: "Even our brothers and sisters who find themselves in the clinical condition of a 'vegetative state'," he said, "retain their human dignity in all its fullness." They are not "vegetables," but fellow human beings in need of our love and care.
The Holy Father added that these patients have "the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc.)." He reminded us that providing water and food, even by artificial means, is "morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering."
There are times when even such basic means may cease to be morally obligatory, because they have become useless or unduly burdensome for the patient. Deliberately to remove them in order to hasten a patient's death, however, would be a form of euthanasia, which is gravely wrong.
I applaud the February 28 statement of the Catholic bishops of Florida, applying this teaching to the Schiavo case. The bishops reiterated their plea that Terri Schindler Schiavo "continue to receive all treatments and care that will be of benefit to her." I join with them in praying that those who hold power over Terri Schindler Schiavo's fate will see that she "continues to receive nourishment, comfort and loving care."