Bioethics Blogs

How should a Catholic hospice respond to patients who choose to voluntarily stop eating and drinking in order to hasten death?

The Linacre Quarterly is the official publication of the Catholic Medical Association (distinct from the larger Catholic Health Association).

In a recent issue, Maureen Cavanagh published “How should a Catholic hospice respond to patients who choose to voluntarily stop eating and drinking in order to hasten death?”  Cavanagh is Manager of Ethics Services for St. Peter’s Health Partners in Albany, New York.

This is her abstract:  ”The practice if voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED) in order to hasten death poses a unique problem for the Catholic hospice. Hospice staff may be confronted with patients already on their service who decide to pursue this option for ending their lives. Patients not on hospice service who are contemplating VSED are often advised to contact hospice for symptom palliation associated with the process if VSED.”

“Intentionally hastening death not only violates the sanctity if human lift and the Ethical and Religious Directives the Catholic hospice is bound to uphold. but it also runs counter to the general philosophy that hospice neither hastens nor postpones death. At the same time, hospice programs have a strong philosophy of non-abandonment of patients. This article will analyze the ethical issues from the perspective of the Catholic tradition and suggest strategies for the Catholic hospice to respond to this group if patients.”

Stanley Terman shared his response to Cavanagh’s article:  ”The author’s position is clear: Life always has value and the intent to die is always wrong. Voluntarily stopping eating and drinking to hasten dying thus violates Catholic principles. It also violates the stated philosophy of hospice—to neither hasten nor postpone death.”

“She recommends even secular health care professionals on staff at hospices refuse to provide palliative care if the cause of suffering is solely due to VSED (which it rarely is).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.