Thursday, March 31, 2005

What are Artificial Means, Anyway?

Reuters has a piece containing the following statement from Pope John Paul II:
'The administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act,' he said. Denying them this treatment would amount to 'euthanasia by omission.'
Reuters then proceeds to make the following statement:
The Catholic Church has traditionally taught that doctors and families could end artificial life-extending measures in good conscience if a dying patient's prospects seemed hopeless.

Reuters, of course is attempting to have you believe that Pope John Paul II is once again dragging the Catholic Church back to the pre-Reformation days and ignoring the progressives in its midst. Reuters would have you believe that the supply of nutrition and hydration is "artificial" if it is delivered via a tube, but "natural" if delivered with a fork and spoon. This seems to me to be a somewhat arbitrary and capricious distinction. Why is a tube artificial? Does this mean that astronauts who consume their food via straws are being kept alive artificially? I think not. Although I'm sure the bio-ethicists could and would come up with a deep philosophical definition of artificial, I think that that is so much sophistry. An "artificial" means of life support would include those methods that have no natural analog. Therefore, a heart-lung machine and a dialysis machine are artificial; there are no natural analogs to these devices. A feeding tube, however, is natural, inasmuch as it does possess a natural analog: the aforementioned eating utensils or even one's own hands. It is not different in kind, just different in methodology.

As much as Reuters tries to spin this topic by the use of quotes from Jesuit priests who don't agree with the Pope, its not going to change the Church's essential position on this issue.
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