Bishop John Sherrington (the Bishop for Life) and Bishop Mark O’Toole (the local bishop) have written to the Rt Hon Matt Hancock after a Court ruling to withdraw food and water from a Catholic patient in a coma in a hospital within the Plymouth Diocese.
Mr RS who is originally from Poland and has lived in Britain for many years fell into a coma after suffering a heart attack in November.
In the letter to the Secretary of State, the bishops express their opposition to the definition of artificial hydration and nutrition as medical treatment. They say that “providing food and water to very sick patients, even by assisted means, is a basic level of care” and that “this care must be given whenever possible unless it is medically indicated as being overly burdensome or failing to attain its purpose.”
The President of the Bishops’ Conference of Poland, Archbishop Gądecki, wrote to Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, asking for his intervention in the case.
It is on the Cardinal’s behalf, the bishops write, that we “express our opposition to this definition of medical treatment and to convey the offer of the Polish authorities to assist in the transfer of Mr RS to Poland for his future care.”
We wish to express our prayers and compassion for Mr RS and his family in England and Poland and recognise the profoundly tragic health condition which he faces.
The Catholic Church continues to oppose the definition of assisted nutrition and hydration as medical treatment which has now become the basis of medical and legal decisions to withdraw assisted nutrition and hydration from patients. Providing food and water to very sick patients, even by assisted means, is a basic level of care. This care must be given whenever possible unless it is medically indicated as being overly burdensome or failing to attain its purpose. The recent court cases concerning patient Mr. RS in the care of the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust has shown the level of controversy around this definition as judges have been called to make decisions in the ‘best interests’ of the patient. We note that Mr RS 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.
Archbishop Gądecki, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Poland, has written to Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, expressing his concern for a Polish citizen, Mr. RS, and asking for his intervention in this case. On his behalf, we write to express our opposition to this definition of medical treatment and to convey the offer of the polish authorities to assist in the transfer of Mr RS to poland for his future care. WE accept the legal process concerning Mr. RS has been completed. However, we pray for agreement within the family about the treatment and care to be provided and express the desire of the Archbishop that Mr. RS be transferred and cared for in Poland.
Rt Rev John Sherrington
Bishop for Life
Rt Rev Mark O’Toole
Bishop of Plymouth