Blog Post

Church Publicly Corrects Professors

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Writer In a rare move, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a public correction of articles about end-of-life issues written by two professors, including a bioethics professor at Loyola University of Chicago, because they misrepresent Catholic teaching. According to the Cardinal Newman Society, a group that works to renew and strengthen the Catholic identity at colleges and universities, Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine, raise their concerns in the August 4 issue of the Jesuits’ America magazine. The bishops write that two previous America articles written by John Hardt, assistant professor of bioethics at Loyola University of Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine, and Thomas Shannon, emeritus professor of religion and social ethics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, “appear to misunderstand and subsequently misrepresent the substance of Church teaching on these difficult but important ethical questions” about “our moral obligations to patients who exist in what has come to be called a ‘persistent vegetative state.’” Both professors argue for exceptions to Church teaching, thereby allowing the removal of a feeding tube and hydration from such patients. For instance, Professor Hardt cites a 2007 statement by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which teaches that artificial nutrition and hydration may be withheld from a patient when “in some rare cases” the treatment “may become excessively burdensome.” He goes on to use the example of his father who asked not to receive artificial hydration and nutrition should he enter a vegetative state. “[M]y father has judged that the burden of persisting in a vegetative state far outweighs the benefit of being sustained that way. This, in my view, is a very Catholic way of thinking….” Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Lori respond by saying that Hardt wrongly defines excessive burden as “a simple dislike for survival in a helpless state.” In fact, the bishops write, “that claim has no foundation in the text [and] is actually contradicted” by the CDF. Furthermore, the bishops write, Hardt ignores the Church’s teaching on euthanasia by “omission”: “The Church insists on the important distinction between validly withdrawing a life-sustaining means because the means itself is burdensome, and wrongly withdrawing it because (in someone’s view) life itself has become burdensome.” The latter action is “always morally wrong,” and providing food and water is almost never a significant burden to the patient. “By omitting food and fluids, what are we trying to achieve?” ask the bishops. “Whose ‘burden’ are we trying to ease? Assisted feeding is often not difficult or costly to provide in itself, but the housing, nursing care and other basic needs of a helpless patient can be significant. To discontinue assisted feeding in order to be freed from such burdens puts the caregiver’s interests ahead of the patient’s, even if we prefer not to recognize the reality of our choice.” The articles by Hardt and Shannon echo the public advocacy by many college professors—several of them at Catholic universities—in support of the withdrawal of food and water from the Florida patient Terri Schiavo in 2005, despite clear Vatican opposition. The Cardinal Newman Society  identified several professors at Boston College, Georgetown University, Marquette University, Seattle University and elsewhere who publicly contradicted Vatican officials on the Schiavo case or otherwise aided the “right to die” movement in the United States.   © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly/Women of Grace.