A reader writes:
I sent you the email regarding my 88 year old father-in-law. Here is some additional information. When my wife made the decision to let him go, the physician from his medical group that was stationed at the hospital told my wife that the process was that they would move him to a private room, leave in the breathing machine but removing the feeding tube and let him starve to death. She said that process could take up to two weeks. That would have been a terrible burden for my wife and 90 year old mother-in-law, who suffers from dementia. My wife insisted that the medical group assign a new physician (for this and other reasons), which they did.
By the way, we got the bill a month later. For a 14 day stay, it came to $516,779.34.
Catholic teaching about end-of-life issues is often misunderstood. From the catechism:2278 Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.2279 Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.
If the Englaro case involved death by starvation ("withdrawing essential nutrients"), other considerations come into play. Starving a person does not exactly result in death with dignity. The alternative is active euthanasia, which is abhorrent to me (and the Church). It's a no win situation. Some situations just don't have an easy or agreeable solution.