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“Ask a Priest: Is Euthanasia an Option for a Comatose Relative?”
Q: My 83-year-old grandmother has been in a coma for the last four years. Every night I visit her and talk to her, but I feel really sad and I cannot go on with this situation. I feel really afraid of talking to a priest in my nearby parish about euthanasia, but I feel I need to. I feel lost. I need some guidance and spiritual help to overcome my internal fight. – M.S.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It must be heartbreaking to see your grandmother night after night and night and not be able to dialogue with her. Yet your dedication to her is admirable and an important witness to the value of life.
Although your anguish is understandable, it needs to said at the start that euthanasia is forbidden.
Life is a gift, and we don’t have any right to take the life of someone, no matter what our motives.
It is worth quoting at length from the Catechism:
2276 Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.
2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable. Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.
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. [end quoted material]
There are times when disproportionate care can be halted. But simple hydration and feeding cannot be discontinued if they don’t pose a burden to a person.
As one ethicist writes, “In clinical situations where death is not imminent and assisted nutrition and hydration by tube feeding will prolong life by providing nourishment, it should be encouraged. Current Church teaching favors the assisted delivery of food and fluids. Only in cases where a patient’s medical condition does not allow the assimilation of food and fluids, where death is imminent and the burdens of delivery outweigh any possible benefit, or where food and fluids are not available—only then is assisted feeding not necessary. Of course, decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, and sound clinical reasoning and communication among patient, family, and physician are integral to sound ethical reasoning.”
Perhaps in this case it isn’t your grandmother who is suffering; rather, it is you.
You need help, perhaps some counseling and certainly the help that the sacraments can bring. You are worn down by the situation; this is a moment to reach out for life-affirming help.
It would be good to speak with your pastor as soon as possible. Count on my prayers.
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