I noticed Phoenix bishop Thomas Olmsted’s Directives for Catholics Concerning Artificially Administered Nutrition and Hydration. I was pleased to see the recognition of the body’s natural shutdown during the dying process, the end of the body digesting food and processing liquids (section 9).
And yet, the identification of the “person” with the “body” may continue to blur the issue:
What if it is possible that a person may live indefinitely but need to be artificially fed? Then he or she must be provided nutrition and hydration even artificially. In this situation to deny one nutrition and hydration would hasten one’s death and would be immoral. In short, a person should die because of one’s illness, not because of a lack of nutrition and hydration.
Is a living body with a dead brain still a person? Does the essence of what makes a human being a person (as opposed to a simple animal) contained within the body processes that are identical to those of, say, cats, frogs, squid, or worms? The way the bishop words his document, I would agree: a person must always be nourished. But is he making the distinctions that we need to make?
A side question for the health insurance debate: do the insurance companies engaged for church employees support all these directives? And if they don’t, are the administrators involved cooperating with evil?
That said, it’s good to see a bishop taking initiative when there’s not some newsworthy life-hanging-in-the-balance situation afoot. This is when pastoral theology works: when discernment can take a proper course with prayer and thought.