By Lisa Zengarini
Giving food and water is basic care, and not a medical treatment UK bishops have reiterated, expressing concern over the recent withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration for a Polish citizen in a coma at a Plymouth hospital. The man, who is referred to publicly only as R.S., suffered a heart attack last November and in December the Court of Protection gave permission to the University Hospitals Plymouth National Health Service Trust to withdraw artificial hydration and nutrition. The removal of the feeding tubes was, however, delayed while the family applied for an appeal against the decision. According to the family, R.S. is a practicing a Catholic and wouldn’t have agreed to suspending his hydration and nutrition. On January 13 the British Court of Appeal rejected the appeal. The European Court of Human Rights has also rejected an application from the Polish government to repatriate the patient. Feeding tubes have been subsequently removed.
Letter to Health Secretary
Following a request by Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Poland (KEP), Bishop John Sherrington, who is in charge of life issues for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW), and Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth have written a letter about the case to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
In the letter they express their opposition to the definition of artificial hydration and nutrition as medical treatment. “Providing food and water to very sick patients, even by assisted means, is a basic level of care”, they say stressing that “this care must be given whenever possible unless it is medically indicated as being overly burdensome or failing to attain its purpose.”
The two prelates also note that Mr R.S. “had not refused food and fluids nor had he expressed any view about not wanting food and fluids in these circumstances and that there was no evidence that he viewed assisted nutrition and hydration as medical treatment”. The letter therefore conveys the offer of the Polish authorities to assist in the transfer of Mr R.S. to Poland for his future care.