No Cheating
09 Sep 2012

Michael Day asserts that “Cardinal Martini caused controversy in his final days after refusing artificial feeding, contravening church policy on end-of-life issues” (4 September). This oversimplifies Catholic teaching.

According to Pope John Paul II, the administration of food and water should be understood as part of “the normal care due to the sick” and thus as “in principle” obligatory. A later statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took a similar approach.

However, if a person is imminently dying, and if artificial feeding would neither extend life nor bring relief from symptoms, then it is not obligatory, as both these statements in effect recognised. Catholics are not obliged to receive care or treatment that has become genuinely futile, though their aim in refusing it should not be to hasten death.

Prof David Albert Jones
Director, The Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford

—— Letters to the Editor, The Independent, 2012-09-08. p. 40