I sympathise very greatly with FF’s experience. I work as a nurse in a Medicine of the Elderly (ie Geriatric) ward. The end of life is part of my daily experience.
My general feeling as a nurse and a Catholic is that the primary responsibility I have is to make people who’s end is approaching as comfortable as possible. A person cannot be comfortable if the are left to die of dehydration so fluids should not ordinarily be withdrawn. Having said which I agreed to this yesterday since a person had a perforated intestine and giving fluids would add immeasurably to their pain without prolonging their lives. Surgery would kill them.
Antibiotics are of a different order from fluid and nutrition. All of us require fluids to sustain life but antibiotics constitute a form of treatment. We are not obliged to accept or to offer treatments if they do not necessarily do a person positive good. Withdrawing fluids will necessarily cause both death and suffering. Witholding antibiotics may not necessarily result in death but if a person with chest infection does die from it it is likely to be a swifter and less painful death than that caused by cancer or some other degenerative disease.
Catholic teaching certainly accepts the possibility that if a person is in extreme pain one can administer high levels of analgesia which might have the effect of killing the person provided that the primary intention is to relieve pain. The whole area is a far from clear cut one in every single case.
There is a Charter for Health Care Workers issued by Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers
It says this
[/font] 119. The right to life is specified in the terminally ill person as "a right to die in total serenity, with human and Christian dignity."229
This cannot be interpreted as the power to kill oneself or to give this power to others, but to experience dying in a human and Christian way and not flee from it “at any cost”. This right is being explicitly expressed by people today in order to safeguard themselves at the point of death against "the use of techniques that run the risk of becoming abusive."230
Contemporary medicine, in fact, has at its disposal methods which artificially delay death, without any real benefit to the patient. It is merely keeping one alive or prolonging life for a time, at the cost of further, severe suffering. This is the so-called “therapeutic tyranny”, which consists "in the use of methods which are particularly exhausting and painful for the patient, condemning him in fact to an artificially prolonged agony."231
This is contrary to the dignity of the dying person and to the moral obligation of accepting death and allowing it at last to take its course. “Death is an inevitable fact of human life”:232 it cannot be uselessly delayed, fleeing from it by every means.233
- Aware that he is “neither the lord of life nor the conqueror of death”, the health care worker, in evaluating means, "should make appropriate choices, that is, relate to the patient and be guided by his real condition."234
Here he will apply the principle – already stated – of “appropriate medical treatment”, which can be specified thus: "When inevitable death is imminent, despite the means used, it is lawful in conscience to decide to refuse treatment that would only secure a precarious and painful prolongation of life, but without interrupting the normal treatment due to the patient in similar cases. Hence the doctor need have no concern; it is not as if he had failed to assist the person in danger."235
The administration of food and liquids, even artificially, is part of the normal treatment always due to the patient when this is not burdensome for him: their undue suspension could be real and properly so-called euthanasia.