VATICAN CITY, MARCH 22, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Patients in a “vegetative state” do not lose their dignity or rights, and withholding food and water from them amounts to euthanasia by omission, says John Paul II.
“I feel the duty to affirm energetically that the intrinsic value and personal dignity of every human being does not change, regardless of the circumstances of his life,” the Pope said Saturday when receiving the 400 participants of an international congress.
The theme of the congress, organized by the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and the Pontifical Academy for Life, was “Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas.”
“A man, even if he is gravely ill or limited in the exercise of his higher functions, is and always will be a man, he will never become a ‘vegetable’ or an ‘animal,'” the Holy Father stressed during a lengthy address to the congress’s participants.
“Our brothers and sisters who are in the clinical condition of ‘vegetative state’ preserve all their human dignity,” he said. “God the Father continues to look upon them lovingly, recognizing them as his children, especially in need of assistance.”
“Doctors and health agents, society and the Church have moral duties toward these persons, of which they cannot exempt themselves without betraying the demands of professional deontology and of human and Christian solidarity,” John Paul II stressed.
“Therefore, the sick person, in a vegetative state, awaiting recovery or his natural end, has the right to basic health care, and to the prevention of complications linked to his state,” the Pope continued.
The prolongation of the vegetative state “cannot justify ethically the abandonment or interruption of the minimal care of the patient, including food and water,” he said. “Death by hunger or thirst, in fact, is the only possible result should these be suspended.”
If caused, in a “conscious and deliberate manner,” it is “genuine euthanasia by omission,” the Pontiff concluded.