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Vatican statement affirms that mentally incapacitated patients must be fed and hydrated

18 September 2007

Vatican statement affirms that mentally incapacitated patients must be fed and hydrated London, 18 September - A new Vatican statement against the denial of food and water from mentally-incapacitated patients has been welcomed by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC). The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (commonly known as the Holy Office) has published its response to questions put to it by the Catholic bishops of the United States regarding the withholding and withdrawing of food and water from patients who are able to assimilate food and fluids but are in a so-called 'permanent vegetative state' ('persistent non-responsive state'). The Holy Office's responses, approved by Pope Benedict XVI, clarify Church teaching, namely, that "the administration of food and water (whether by natural or artificial means) to a patient in a "vegetative state" [is] morally obligatory." Anthony Ozimic, SPUC political secretary, commented: "The Vatican's statement is highly significant for the whole world but especially for England and Wales, where new legislation is now coming into force that runs directly contrary to the statement's principles. The Mental Capacity Act allows and in some cases requires food and water to be denied to mentally incapacitated, non-dying persons. This will place conscientious healthworkers in a serious dilemma. They may be forced to choose between continuing to feed patients and participating in a regime of starvation and dehydration. If they follow their conscience they may face disciplinary action, dismissal or even criminal prosecution. "We hope that this timely statement from the Vatican will be backed up with pastoral action here to support healthcare workers (of any faith) resisting pressure to co-operate in the killing-by-omission of their patients. SPUC has already launched a scheme to promote the welfare of incapacitated patients, and is calling for the repeal of the Mental Capacity Act. "Everyone, particularly Catholics, should be made aware that the Church teaches definitively that no advance directive nor court decision nor power of attorney can justify participation in starving or dehydrating anyone to death," concluded Mr Ozimic. .

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