Pope: Feeding tubes a 'moral obligation'

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Raising a significant dilemma for Catholic skilled nursing, hospice and hospital providers, Pope John Paul II has announced it is "morally obligatory" to continue tube feeding for individuals in need, regardless of how long it may continue.

He called such treatment "basic care" and "not a medical act," adding that removal of a feeding tube would be "euthanasia by omission." Catholic hospitals may not provide services forbidden by the church, even for non-Catholic patients.
 
The Pope's stand is "a stunner, to say the least," said Laurence O'Connell, director of Park Ridge Center for Health, Faith and Ethics in Chicago, in a USA Today article Thursday.
 
Caregivers were not sure what the Pope's stance would mean for advance directives already drawn up that might declare no "extraordinary" measures should be used to continue one's life.
 
In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that feeding tubes are medical treatments. The Catholic Hospital Association (CHA), for example, considers feeding tubes for people in a vegetative state as "medical treatment" that may or may not be discontinued.
 
Months of discussion among moral theologians are likely before U.S. bishops revise directives, according to officials.
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