LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Catholic leaders have asked the UK government to allow Poland to care for a comatose patient that is having life-sustaining nutrition withdrawn at a hospital located within the Plymouth diocese.
Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth and Bishop John Sherrington, who heads the department for life at the English bishops’ conference, sent a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Jan. 20 discussing the case of “RS”, a Polish citizen who has lived in Britain for several years and fell into a coma after suffering a heart attack in November.
On Monday, a UK court agreed that ending artificial hydration and nutrition was in the best interests of the patient.
The case has divided RS’s family, with his wife and children supporting the court’s decision, and his mother, sisters and niece insisting the man wouldn’t wish to die due to his Catholic faith.
The “Budzik” clinic in Olsztyn, Poland – which has had success treating coma patients – has offered to admit the man.
In their letter, the two English bishops said they “recognize the profoundly tragic health condition which he faces.”
“The Catholic Church continues to oppose the definition of assisted nutrition and hydration as medical treatment which has now become the basis of medical and legal decisions to withdraw assisted nutrition and hydration from patients. Providing food and water to very sick patients, even by assisted means, is a basic level of care. This care must be given whenever possible unless it is medically indicated as being overly burdensome or failing to attain its purpose,” the letter says.
The bishops noted that there was no evidence that RS viewed assisted nutrition and hydration as medical treatment.
David Albert Jones, the director of the Oxford-based Anscombe Bioethics Centre, said the court gave too little weight to the Catholic faith of the patient.
“When, as in the RS case, a Catholic […] is not known to dissent from the Church’s teaching, then this should guide the interpretation of the person’s previous statements,” he said, referring to testimony heard in the case about what RS had said to family members about end-of-life care.
“In this context, rejection of being ‘kept alive’ when ‘beyond saving’ most naturally refers to rejection of intensive medical treatment and ventilation where there is no hope of recovery, not to rejection of nutrition and hydration where they are effective in sustaining life,” Jones continued.
“From a Catholic perspective, to provide food and drink to those who are hungry and thirsty is a corporal work of mercy. Patients should not be abandoned to die from lack of nutrition or hydration, however that is best provided,” he explained.
Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, wrote Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, on Jan. 19 asking him to intervene in the case.
In their letter, O’Toole and Sherrington conveyed the offer of the Polish authorities to assist in the transfer of RS to Poland for his future care.
“We accept the legal process concerning Mr. RS has been completed. However, we pray for agreement within the family about the treatment and care to be provided and express the desire of the Archbishop that Mr. RS be transferred and cared for in Poland,” the letter concludes.
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