The New Zealand Catholic bishops’ bioethics agency - The Nathaniel Centre - says that Margaret Page’s decision to end her life by refusing food and fluids raises serious ethical and moral issues, not just legal ones.
Director of The Nathaniel Centre, Father Michael McCabe, says an important aspect seems to have been overlooked:
“Mrs Page is severely disabled as a result of a cerebral haemorrhage: she is not terminally ill,” he says.
“In Catholic teaching the provision of food and water is not considered to be medical treatment, but is rather a fundamental expression of human care. Accordingly it is a duty of care to continue to offer food and water even if a patient refuses them.”
Father McCabe says of equal concern is the way in which Dignity New Zealand founder Lesley Martin has used Mrs Page’s case to promote the legalisation of assisted suicide.
“In the past Ms Martin has promoted the legalisation of euthanasia as a means to help the terminally ill achieve death with dignity. Now she is effectively advocating assisted suicide to anyone who wants it,” he says.
“The greater challenge to us as a society is not to legalise assisted suicide but to respond to the relational, spiritual and medical needs of a person that emerge at the end of life.”