Cardinal Vincent Nichols is the latest recruit to the ranks of the men in red. The Archbishop of Westminster believes that the nanny state can usurp the rights of parents. He insists that suffocating a terminally ill child by yanking it off the ventilator is "an act of mercy." He reveals that his interpretative framework for Catholic doctrine is "society's common good." He defends a children's hospital notorious for harvesting organs from dead babies and failing to meet four out of five safety standards.
Most lamentably, Cdl. Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, distorts Catholic teaching on palliative care in relation to the case of Alfie Evans. Nichols is right when he claims that "palliative care, which isn't a denial of help, can be an act of mercy." However, he is in serious danger of confusing palliative care with euthanasia by stealth.
The World Health Organization defines palliative care as "an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual."
The definition is unambiguously pro-life and in no way confuses palliative care with stealth euthanasia. Palliative care offers care when medicine cannot cure. Withdrawing life support and ventilation from Alfie Evans following a court order is emphatically not palliative care. It is, rather, a flagrant violation of magisterial teaching as laid down in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Even "an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder," states the Catechism. It warns that the "error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded."
An act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder'Tweet
Cardinal Nichols is right when he cites Church teaching stating that "we do not have a moral obligation to continue a severe therapy when it's having no effect." The Catechism permits the discontinuation of "over-zealous" treatment that is "burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome." But it clarifies that the "ordinary care," such as food and water, owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted "even if death is imminent."
Alder Hey Children's Hospital refused oxygen and water to Alfie for the first nine hours after his ventilator was removed, and starved him of food for 36 hours, greatly worsening his condition. Refusing nutrition, hydration and ventilation to a small child is not an act of mercy: It is a cruel and barbaric form of execution. Is Cdl. Nichols arguing that such an act, in effect euthanasia by stealth, is a form of palliative care?
The Catechism also specifies who is to make the decisions to discontinue treatment. If the patient is unable to make the decision, such decisions should be made by those who are "legally entitled to act for the patient" — in this case, Alfie's parents — and their "reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected." By what sleight of hand can Cdl. Nichols interpret this to mean that "a court must decide what's best not for the parents, but for the child"?
The Catechism recognizes the significance of intention in bringing about a person's death. Even if done "indirectly," this violates the Fifth Commandment: "Thou shall not kill." By withdrawing food and water, the medical staff intended for him to die, even though they knew he wasn't going to live.
United States Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch in his book The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia raises the question of "why omissions of care cannot sometimes, at least where an intention to kill is present, also qualify as acts of murder." Hence, an omission of care undertaken with the intention of ending life crosses the fine line and may become a deliberate act intended to end life.
Three judges of the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, striking down parts of New York's law against assisted suicide, ruled:
The withdrawal of nutrition brings on death by starvation, the withdrawal of hydration brings on death by dehydration, and the withdrawal of ventilation brings on respiratory failure. By ordering the discontinuance of these artificial life-sustaining processes or refusing to accept them in the first place, a patient hastens his death by means that are not natural in any sense. It certainly cannot be said that the death that immediately ensues is the natural result of the progression of the disease.
The conclusion is clear. When doctors and courts decide to withdraw basic care such as food and water, it is hard to claim "human choice doesn't play any causal role in their deaths," Gorsuch contends.
The U.S. Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act provides guidelines for when treatment may be withheld, for example, when "the infant is chronically and irreversibly comatose" or when "the provision of such treatment would merely prolong dying" or would "be virtually futile in terms of the survival of the infant." Even in these circumstances, the physician is always required to provide nutrition and hydration, observes Gorsuch.
The cardinals wear red as a sign that they are willing to give themselves totally to the Church, even to the point of shedding their own blood for Her. With the neo-Marxist takeover of the Church, it seems that the cardinals' vestments are a sign of their loyalty to the new "Red Army."
The Rev. Dr. Jules Gomes, B.A., B.D., M.Th., Ph.D. (Cambridge) is columnist for The Conservative Woman. He writes regularly on his website at julesgomes.com.