Is this euthanasia?

I have a friend; we’ll call him Joe who feels guilty about his father’s death. Several years ago, Joe’s 80 year old dad had a small stroke that landed him in the hospital. That night in the hospital, his dad had a massive stroke but the doctors needed family permission to administer t-PA or clot busting drugs. The docs missed the window of opportunity and by the time a family member gave consent, it was a bit late. In the next couple weeks, his dad seemed to be aware of his surroundings, but could not communicate in any way – neither understand what was said to him nor respond to any commands. He could not talk and could not eat because swallowing didn’t work so he would need a feeding tube.
He could hear because when taken outside would look up at an airplane or a bird’s song. He would hold a flower and twirl it in his fingers. But he was completely paralyzed on his right side and more. The docs said he would probably not recover and the best outcome would be around the clock nursing care.
This dad had a living will framed and hanging in his living room to the effect that if he was ever rendered helpless to this level, he did not want any heroic efforts to keep him alive, but only wanted nature to take its course. So, the family decided to withhold the feeding tube as they interpreted his wishes, until he naturally died. Joe had talked to his pastor about this beforehand and was satisfied he was making the right decision, but now has second thoughts. Especially after the Terri Schiavo case, he is becoming convinced he participated in euthanasia because his dad could have lived many months – even years on that feeding tube. And who knows, maybe he would’ve regained some form of communication and even mobility with the right therapy. This is a tough case and I’m not sure how to help Joe deal with this.

I think the Church is way too vague on the guidelines for caring for those in such a position that this man was.

Feeding tube – yeah, they should have kept it in. I’d hate to have one of those in me, I don’t know how the man can stand it.

How to help your friend? Well, somehow he has to accept that he can’t change what happened and move on with his life. He should discuss it in confession with the priest.

Everybody dies. They die someplace – at home, in a hospital, in a hospice or nursing home, or, sadly, in a million different places where they wouldn’t have expected to be when they died.

In the vicinity of 250,000 people die every day – every cause and circumstance. We all should be prepared for it in basic ways. Don’t ignore that it happens. These days, most people who are educated enough should have their intentions written down someplace.

I worked in a nursing home for some time. People lose their privacy there, they lose their independence, they lose their common dignity. I was overrun with work and I’m ashamed that I couldn’t care for my patients better than I did. I was the part-time, fill-in person, and I didn’t know the patients’ expectations about when they wanted to go to bed, etc. I just wasn’t trained for that job.

I think your friend’s situation was just an accident. He didn’t know what he was doing. You see? in the nursing home or wherever that man was, they didn’t really have any ethical problem with pulling a feeding tube. He was lulled into thinking that was an acceptable course of treatment.

There are patients I saw who were never given a feeding tube in the first place. They didn’t even get to first base on that issue. It’s hard to be a caregiver in that situation, too.

There were patients who were denied meds,probably because they were considered terminal and/or end-stage, like with Hodgkins disease or some forms of cancer. Pope John Paul II said something once that refusing to eat was a normal part of dying, for some patients. This does happen, all the time, I suspect.

I don’t see how this could be euthanasia. Euthanasia is mercy killing, where you deliberately kill someone to put him out of his pain. The man apparently had a living will that said no feeding tube. I suspect that the nursing home would have to follow the man’s wishes rather than the wishes of someone else.

It’s true that Pope John Paul II did say something about a feeding tube not being “extraordinary means.” Before he said that, I think it was generally accepted that people didn’t have to have a feeding tube if they didn’t want one.

When Pope John Paul said that, I don’t believe he meant that people who were in the dying process were required to have feeding tubes. When the body is shutting down, the food would not be processed by the body, and it would only make the person bloated and uncomfortable.

People tending to dying persons do the best they can under difficult circumstances. The moral aspect of this is different in each situation - you really have to take the circumstances into account for each case.

Euthanasia is not mercy killing.
Euthanasia is MURDER!

Thistle, are you judging this particular action an act against the 5th commandment?

Good post.

I don’t think so. Can’t speak for Thistle, but I lothe the term “mercy killing”. It makes deliberate euthanasia (killing, murder) sound like one is doing the patient a favor. It’s a term sort of like “Pro-choice”. After all, having choices is a good thing, right? And it’s a virtue to be merciful, right?

These are often very difficult cases.

I’m no psycologist, but as a veterinarian, I do deal with clients who make the decision to euthanize their pets. Yes, that’s totally different from a moral standpoint than with humans, but the owners often go through the same tortured decisions as to “Is it the right time?” “Am I doing the right thing?”, “Should I have waited longer?” “Did I wait too long?”, etc.

I usually tell them that it’s normal to have second thoughts or second guess their decision maybe a day later, maybe a week or a month later, maybe 6 months later. As well, I let them know they’re making the right decision, as I simply will not euthanize a healthy (physically and behaviorally) pet.

Again, euthanasia of animals is totally different from humans, but the anxiety and anguish over making the decision to allow, in the case of humans, or cause, in the case of pets their death is emotionally taxing.

In the case of the OP’s friend, I’d say having been counceled by clergy, having followed what his father wanted as put forth in a living will, and after a consensus of the family was reached…that “second thoughts” would be normal.

How to help him? Suggest that he contact a good, qualified Christian (Catholic?..not sure if he’s Catholic or not) counselor to help him work this out. As well, he should seek spiritual guidance from his pastor or priest.

Yes. Euthanasia falls under the 5th Commandment, just as abortion does.
Euthanasia is murder just as abortion is murder.
There is no such thing as a “mercy” killing.

The Church’s teaching on this matter are not vague in the least. The Church is very clear.

Extraordinary means are not required to keep someone a live. Nutrition and hydration (food and water) are NOT deemed to be extraordinary care. These things are ordinary care and cannot be withheld even if the person is being fed artificially via a tube.

So, yes, the decision to withhold food and starve this man to death is a grave sin against the Fifth Commandment.

I don’t mean to nit-pick, but I do want to make a clarification about this statement. Actually, euthanasia technically does mean “good death” (Greek–> eu meaning good and thanatos meaning death) and can be translated to English as “mercy death.”

The issue is that euthanasia has become synonymous with physician-assisted suicide today. Euthanasia is a broad term which includes physician-assisted suicide but also contains other aspects such as “letting nature take its course.”

Here’s clarification from the AMA (American Medical Association) if anyone is interested:

Letting nature take its course is not a deliberate act of killing someone.

The Church teaching:

CCC 2324 Intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.

CCC 2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. 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.

Yes, I agree with you. The Church is against intentional euthanasia. I was attempting to make the distinction that euthanasia is a broad term that needs to be further specified.

I’m not trying to argue a point but I’m curious as to how one would describe this as euthanasia for those that believe it is. The man didn’t want machines keeping him alive but nobody ended his life for him.

Thinking that qualifies as euthanasia you might as well consider someone that’s a DNR as the same thing.

OP, I assume that since you posted this in moral theology you are more interested in whether or not this was a bad act (or more specifically) an act AGAINST the 5th Commandment. Not so much what the technical legal / medical definition of euthanasia is.

Let me start first by saying that I do not know this family, and I can only go based of what you have stated. So everything I say may be wrong depending on the situation, but I am just trying to give you an objective perspective. I mean no disrespect.

Nothing here says “no feeding tube” to me. I would hardly think feeding someone would be considered a “heroic effort” to keep them alive. Did the will specifically say “no feeding tube” or did he say something to the family that led them to that conclusion? There is a HUGE difference between a feeding tube and brain-dead, hooked up to machines.

Based of what you described, this is not a “pull the plug” scenario. The Dad was fully able to live independent of any life-supporting machine. He merely couldn’t swallow and needed assistance with being fed. He also was responding to his environment which indicates a certain level of consciousness.

Like an above poster said, a feeding tube is not an “extraordinary means” and I think that objectively speaking, this was wrong to remove the tube. Any act which harms an individual (even if not killing) is considered against the 5th Commandment, according to Church teaching. So my inclination is to say yes, he committed an evil against the 5th Commandment. Whether or not this is a sin depends largely on your friend’s knowledge and deliberate intent in the act.

It would seem your friend would agree, since he is feeling guilty and moving in that direction. Make sure he understands that its not all his fault. He was told by the doctors there wasn’t much hope. He was trying to follow his Dad’s wishes. Try and comfort him with this. Your friend is in my prayers.

It’s difficult to make a quick judgment in this case since there are so many things to consider. We don’t know what options were really available to your friend, what sort of chances his Dad has, etc. We can now only hope and pray that he is in Heaven.

The Church consideres nutrition and hydration to be **ordinary **care **required **for all persons.

The person did not die of their disease or condition. They died of starvation. This is immoral.

I understand that part, but since he was not able to eat of his on volition and didn’t want to be kept alive by machinery how would that be euthanasia? Since it is his choice even though he wasn’t able to verbalize it wouldn’t it be (if either) more considered suicide? Since he chose before hand that he didn’t want to be kept on a feeding tube wouldn’t it be the same as someone bringing him food and him simply refusing to eat? The feeding tubes were there but were not given to him because of his own request, how can that be the fault of anyone but his own?

Because, as has already been stated, the Church teaches that nutrition and hydration is required even when via a tube. Nutrition and hydration cannot be withheld.

Starving or dehydrating someone to death is murder.

No. The family made the decision to withhold feeding.


Because regardless of his “wishes” nutrition and hydration are **required **care. They are not optional. They cannot be withheld.

  1. a feeding tube is not a machine. Feeding someone via a feeding tube is no more aggressive than using an IV to keep a person hydrated – something that is common, routine medical practice.

  2. the patient was not in need of resucitation so a DNR is irrelevant

  3. the patient was not actively dying until he began to be starved to death.


You are a good friend. If your friend is Catholic he may find some peace regarding this in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But it sounds like he did the best he could given the information he had at the time.

I’m not trying to be difficult… there’s just a lot I don’t understand. So… would it be considered both? Suicide on his part for making the request and euthanasia for them following through on it?

That’s possible.

However, many of these so-called “living wills” or “medical directives” are unclear. Extraordinary may mean something different to you than the next person, or a doctor. I think many people have probably been killed or allowed to die based on these sorts of documents in ways they never anticipated. Who would think that telling doctors not to take extraordinary measures would lead to your starvation? Not me.

I find it unlikely that a person would mean that they should be starved to death. If they did mean this, explicitly, then they might be complicit in the euthanasia but I would not call it “suicide.”

What is unintentional euthanasia? Switching off a machine in the hospital is not euthanasia because that is simply letting nature take its course so I’m curious as to what unintentional euthanasia is. Please note this is not a trick question. I’m interested.

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