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ROME, March 22, 2004 ( - The international congress on “Life- sustaining treatments and the vegetative state” organized by the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC) and the Pontifical Academy for Life over the weekend, was anything but dull. spoke with congress Canadian participant Alex Schadenberg, of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition who said Pope John Paul II’s definitive pronouncement on the immorality of removal of nutrition and hydration from patients in a persistent vegetative state was shocking to many. The surprise stems from the fact that the now condemned practice is commonplace at hospitals throughout the world, including Catholic hospitals.

The day before the Pope’s pronouncement, there was an exchange between a presenter from the Pontifical Academy for Life and another physician who was also to make a presentation.

Dr. JPM Lelkens, corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for life, spoke on the fact that the numbers of euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands are skewed by the nation’s refusal to acknowledge withdrawal of nutrition and hydration (passive euthanasia) as euthanasia. Therefore, while Holland suggests low figures for deaths by euthanasia, Dr. Lelkens, a physician and professor in Maastrict Holland suggested that some ten per cent of deaths in the Netherlands are due to euthanasia - 3.9% from withdrawal of nutrition and hydration alone.

Dr. JCM Lavrijsen, a physician from Nijmegen Holland who was also presenting at the conference, but on palliative care, was indignant that Dr. Lelkens was referring to withdrawal of nutrition and hydration as euthanasia. In an intense exchange, Lavrijsen, an advocate of withdrawal of nutrition and hydration for patients in a persistent vegetative state, asked Lelkens publicly, “Are you accusing me of manslaughter?”

After a brief pause, Dr. Lelkens responded, “Yes because there is no other way to define it, I am accusing you of manslaughter.”

The debate on the matter, at least for Catholics, was brought to a close the next day when the Pope gave a definitive statement condemning the removal of nutrition and hydration from patients in a vegetative state.



(see coverage of the statement: )

Professor Gianluigi Gigli, president of the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, also spoke strongly against passive euthanasia. Dr. Gigli called the practice of removal of nutrition and hydration as a Trojan horse to active euthanasia. He attacked the philosophy of the practice since it bases respect for human life on utility rather than on the dignity of the person.

Gigli said, “After society rejected euthanasia under Nazism, we are now accepting euthanasia for freedom or compassion or pain or choice, I will fight this so long as I live and with all of my strength.” He continued, “If we open the door to nutrition and hydration removal, something else will come. It will make life a disposable good and life will be only a good based on its quality. If we accept this we will accept that there is a life not worthy of life. It will lead to the notion - ‘wouldn’t it be better, faster and more compassionate to give them an injection’.”

Additional reporting of the meeting includes:

Major palliative care conference at the Vatican

Catholic News, March 17, 2004

Doctors, research scientists, and ethicists from 49 different countries have gathered in Rome for a four-day Holy See-sponsored conference on the treatment of patients in a “vegetative state”.

The Pontifical Academy for Life has convened the conference at the Augstinianum University, which begins today. The 375 international participants will hear presentations from 40 experts.

The conference aims to discuss ethical issues arising from new developments in medical science that prolong life. It will consider when, or whether, it is ethically justifiable to suspend treatment of a patient in a “vegetative state”.

President of the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations Dr Gianluigi Gigli told reporters that the most controversial issue is the provision of nutrition and water to the patient.

The Church teaches that neither doctors nor patients are bound to use “disproportionate means” to prolong life. But Dr Gigli argues strongly that “nutrition and hydration are not a form of treatment, and they are not disproportionate. This is care that is due to patients.”

Alan Shewmon, a neurology professor at UCLA in the United States highlighted the problem of inaccurate diagnosis, when patients recover their faculties, long after being pronounced permanently “vegetative”.

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, the vice-president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said: “As long as there is life in the person, that person continues to live in all his dignity, his all his soul.”

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