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English bishop amid court challenges: Giving food, water is basic care
MANCHESTER, England (CNS)(Updated) — An English bishop expressed solidarity with the family of a man on feeding tubes who appealed to a court for him to be kept alive.
Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth said in a statement sent to Catholic News Service that the English court’s decision “to allow for the withdrawal of hydration and nutrition is very worrying,” even more so because “it is deemed to be in the best interests of the patient.”
Bishop O’Toole said that “providing food and water to very sick patients — even if by artificial means — is a basic level of care.”
The Polish citizen, who is referred to publicly only as RS because of reporting restrictions, suffered a heart attack in November, and in mid-December, the Court of Protection gave permission to University Hospitals Plymouth National Health Service Trust to withdraw artificial hydration and nutrition Jan. 7.
The removal of the tube was delayed until Jan. 13 while the birth family applied to the U.K. Court of Appeal for permission to lodge a further appeal with the European Court of Human Rights.
Court documentation made public Jan. 14 reveals that the Court of Appeal informed the interested parties Jan. 13 that it had rejected the application, with withdrawal of feeding tubes permitted again from 6 p.m. that same day.
The birth family of the man had appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to halt the case in December but its application was dismissed.
The European court later also rejected an application from the Polish government to repatriate the patient.
The U.K. Court of Protection had earlier accepted claims by doctors that RS might live for five years but might not recover beyond “a minimally conscious state” where he could barely “acknowledge a presence of another human being.” The judge ruled it was not in the best interests of RS to be kept alive “in a state which provides him with no capacity to obtain any pleasure and which is so upsetting to his wife and children.”
The man’s mother, however, is determined to save her son. “I am devastated that the British authorities have decided to dehydrate my son to death,” she said in a Jan. 8 press release issued by the Christian Legal Centre, which is assisting the family. “What the British authorities are trying to do to my son is euthanasia by the back door.”
According to the press release, Father Patrick Pullicino, a former neurologist, examined videos of RS made by the family and concluded that they showed “a clear emotional response to the presence of family members” and might indicate that his prospects of recovery were better than suggested.
The judge rejected the evidence, however, and also refused a request from the family for RS to be examined by another neurologist.
The judge denied the Catholic Church the opportunity to offer an expert opinion. Earlier rulings in similar cases had taken the religious persuasions of the patients into account.
David Jones, director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, an institute serving the Catholic Church in the U.K. and Ireland, said in a Jan. 12 statement, “Patients should not be abandoned to die from lack of nutrition or hydration, however that is best provided.”
A statement from the NHS trust, sent to CNS Jan. 13, said staff at the hospital where RS was being treated had “every sympathy for the patient and members of the family.”