The Metaphysics of Feeding of Vegetative State Patients–Why I Disagree wtih the Latest Vatican Ruling

Just read that the Vatican has offered their position on the feeding and hydration of patients in a chronic vegetative state.  I strongly disagree with their insistence that there is a moral right of such patients to be maintained in this state of being.

One statement that jumped out at me seems to be at the root of this theological and moral statement–namely that such patients deserve the alleviation of their suffering. 

To this I respond: I would totally agree if I believed that these individuals are actually suffering.  But on the contrary, I do not believe this is so. From my work with anesthesia and pain I totally understand that all feeling occurs on the conscious level of the individual. Under anesthesia there is no pain, no thirst, no  hunger–no suffering. I believe that their level of consciousness corresponds with those who are under deep anesthesia.

Some will respond by saying, ‘who do you know that they are not suffering on some level?’  Of course I cannot respond other than to say that I have no evidence to believe this.  Also, I can respond that it is unlikely that the individual would choose if they could,  to remain in this state of being.

Patients in persistent vegetative states are in comas.  They do not respond to painful stimuli with conscious responses.  They are not ‘alive’ in the usual sense of the word.

I actually believe that their souls are trapped in these bodies and cannot move on.

Now I am not an advocate of active euthanasia. I do not believe it is necessary to purposefully induce death.  I am an advocate of the use of pain meds in cases where pain and painful responses exist, even if this hastens their death. However, I feel that keeping someone ‘alive’ who has no hope for awakening to a conscious state of being actually perpetuates the suffering of those around.

I do acknowledge that this is my personal opinion and may not reflect that of others and their families.  I do acknowledge that some family members desire their relatives to remain ‘alive’ in whatever state they exist rather than to contemplate their actual death.

I believe that much of this reflects the overall fear of death and inability to regard it as natural and inevitable.

I also see this directive as an impediment to instituing pallliative care in hospital settings for individuals who have no chance for recovery.

Last summer when my Mother slipped into a coma following a progressive degenerative neurologic disease, I did not have an iv or feeding tube inserted in her. Her death was imminent and her state of being was tragic and without hope of returning her to who she had been.

I do not regret that decision.

I understand the difficulty that many experience with these issues and it is not my intention to increase anyone’s  or any family’s anxiety or suffering,  but I feel a public debate and discussion, without rancor or attacks should be instituted.

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