The Father William Most Collection
Problems of Artificial Feeding
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
1. Declaration of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, May 5, 1980: "... is it necessary in all circumstances to have recourse to all possible remedies? In the past, moralists replied that one is never obliged to use 'extraordinary' means. This reply, which as a principle still holds good, is perhaps less clear today, by reason of the imprecision of the term and the rapid progress made in the treatment of sickness. Thus some people prefer to speak of 'proportionate' and 'disproportionate' means. In any case, it will be possible to make a correct judgment as to the means by studying the type of treatment to be used, its degree of complexity or risk, its cost and the possibilities of using it, and comparing these elements with the result that can be expected, taking into account the state of the sick person and his or her physical and moral resources."
2. Catholic Theologians' application of the above to feeding done by tube and/or the use of a respirator: There are two schools of thought:
a) Some will ask the question: Is it permissible to starve someone to death? -- If the question is put that way, the answer will be: No. They will add: food is always an ordinary means, even if the way of giving it is extraordinary.
b) Some will ask the question: If there is no hope at all of recovery and the patient is unconscious and unable to take food by himself/herself, is the family obliged to provide this means for a long period, and is the sick one obliged to submit to it? Put this way, many solid theologians will say: It is not required. The burden is too great, all out of proportion to the hope of good to be obtained. As the Sacred Congregation pointed out in the above quotation, we consider not only ordinary vs extraordinary, but also the proportionate results, compared to the difficulty, expense, and care of providing it.
3. Statement of U. S. Bishops, checked by Cardinal Ratzinger (from: National Catholic Reporter, April 10, 1992, a Resource Paper, released April 2): "nutrition and hydration 'must not be withdrawn in order to cause death', yet they 'may be withdrawn if they offer no reasonable hope of sustaining life, or pose excessive risks or burdens.'"