By John Connolly

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 21, 2007 ( – The Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHUSA) posted a statement on its website interpreting a document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) on the necessity of feeding and watering the disabled in a way contrary to its intended meaning.

CHUSA is the same organization that advised the USCCB to endorse offering the morning-after pill to victims of rape being treated in Catholic hospitals. It has now posted a letter on its website claiming to put the CDF document in its proper context. The letter is penned by John J. Hardt and Fr. Kevin D. O’Rourke, O.P., both bioethicists. O’Rourke is notorious as the priest who lobbied against the cause to keep Terri Schiavo alive. He stated that “for Christians, it is a blasphemy to keep people [like Terri Schiavo] alive.”

In the current letter, the two bioethicists came to the conclusion that the CDF document errs on the side of not nourishing and hydrating patients, rather than the reverse, claiming that the document’s meaning is much narrower than face value dictates.

“Many of the rules are repeated in one way or another in the present Code of Canon Law,” the letter said. “Two canons of the present code are relevant for our study: Canon 18: Laws which establish a penalty or restrict free exercise of rights . . . are subject to strict interpretation. Canon 52: A singular decree has force only in respect to the matters which it decides and for the persons for whom it was given.

“Hence, the application of the CDF response, because it limits the free exercise of rights, will only apply to a restricted number of cases, specifically to patients with a firm diagnosis of PVS [persistent vegetative state]. Some commentators have sought to extend the statement to people with other pathologies, such as advanced Alzheimer’s disease or acute dementia. But the response concerns only patients who are diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, not to all patients who are unable to assimilate food and water without artificial assistance.”

In 2004, Pope John Paul II told an international medical-moral congress that “the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory.”

In 2005, the U.S. Bishops sent two follow-up questions on the statement asking for clarification on the statement. The questions asked for confirmation that the administration of food and water was morally obligatory and if food and water could be removed in the event of a doctor’s judgment that the patient will not regain consciousness. The CDF responded in September of 2007 with a yes to the first question and a no to the second.

Matt Bowman, a Legal Counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, and graduate of the Ave Maria School of Law, summarized the errors of Hardt and O’Rourke on his blog (

“Theologians on the wrong side of these debates are not satisfied with church clarifications,” he said. “The theologians on CHA’s website claim that the mere “psychic burden” of being cognitively disabled, and the related “burden upon the loved ones giving care,” justifies withholding tube feeding and thereby causing death by starvation. This is exactly the conclusion that the Vatican statement rejected. A comatose person’s life, and our need to care for him, is not a burden that justifies starvation any more than it justifies suffocation. I fail to see how this line of reasoning does not in principle justify suicide.”

Dr. Edward Peters, a canon lawyer, criticized Hardt and O’Rourke’s legal reasoning. On his blog (, Peters faults the letter for taking the CDF document in the completely wrong light. He debunks O’Rourke and Hardt’s use of canon law from 1298 to interpret what was not a juridical statement from the CDF, but a moral one.

“Canons 18 and 52 and the Rules of Law upon which they draw are, by their plain terms, meant to inform one’s interpretation of laws and legal directives,” wrote Peters. “In issuing its Response on nutrition and hydration, however, CDF was not issuing a law, or an authentic interpretation of a law (1983 CIC 16), or indeed any other kind of juridic decree (administrative or otherwise). Instead the dicastery is setting forth moral criteria for personal decision-making, a point reinforced by the CDF Response being posted among the dicastery’s doctrinal statements, not its disciplinary ones. In other words, by subjecting CDF’s enunciation of moral principles to interpretive techniques that were developed for assessing legal norms, Hardt & O’Rouke are basically criticizing the CDF Response for not being something it never claimed to be.”

CHUSA has a history of doctrinal dissent, endorsing the use of “emergency contraception” and sterilization in Catholic hospitals and paying for advertising space in pro-abortion magazines.

Fr. O’Rourke attended a talk in Wisconsin in October to explain his new interpretation of the CDF’s document, asserting that maintaining the lives of the disabled “has never been the Catholic tradition,” but rather, these kinds of decisions have always been left “up to the family.” When Father O’Rourke was asked at the talk about the discrepancy between his viewpoint and the Responses to Certain Questions, he indicated that the CDF document is “full of holes that theologians will be able to exploit.”

Read the CDF Document Responses to Certain Questions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration:…

Read the CHUSA Letter Nutrition and Hydration: The CDF Response, In Perspective:…

See previous LifeSiteNewscom coverage:

U.S. Catholic Health Association Giving Flawed Advice on Morning After Pill to Catholic Hospitals