VATICAN - What sort of assistance should be given to patients in a vegetative state? International Conference on “ Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas” opens today in Rome

Wednesday, 17 March 2004

Vatican City (Fides Service) - Some 370 participants from 42 different countries are in Rome to attend an International Congress on “Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas “ organised by the Italian Federation of Associations of Catholic Doctors FIAMC and the Pontifical Academy for Life which opened today, 17 March.
Professor Gianluigi Gigli, Italian Federation of Associations of Catholic Doctors, said that the main objectives of the Conference were to give a correct vision of the persistent vegetative state, a scientific opinion from medical doctors and a popular ethic reflection to create awareness with regard to this serious problem.
“A patient in a vegetative is in a state of unconsciousness, more or less, but this does not mean the patient is no longer to be considered a person and therefore destined to the interruption of all assistance and left to die”. Archbishop Elio Sgreccia, Vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life said when he presented the Conference to the press.
Progress in medical assistance has led to an increase in the number of patients who depend “artificial” nutrition and hydration in order to stay alive. In many cases these patients can stay in conditions of dependence for years. The most dramatic example is the vegetative state, a clinical condition which occurs when a patient who has experienced a cerebral blow comes out of coma without resuming a life of relations, but does not lose the state of being a person, Mons Sgreccia explained.
In recent years a movement of opinion started in the Anglo-Saxon bio-ethic environment, penetrating professional and scientific societies and landing in Europe. For these currents of thought, as Prof. Gigli said, “artificial” nutrition and hydration, not to mention breathing assistance, are interventions which degrade human dignity and which every person would have the right should they become necessary. For people who leave no instructions in this regard the legal representative or magistrate should provide for the same.
Prof. Gigli said the question of suspending nutrition and hydration has major consequences for the medical profession, moral codes of health institutions and future attitudes of society towards seriously disabled patients.
Moreover, particularly in Anglo-Saxon countries, there is growing pressure to consider suspension of nutrition and hydration not only for patients in the vegetative state but also for those in prolonged coma, in a state of insanity, serious cognitive deterioration, serious cerebral ictus. There is a danger that such attitudes may lead in the future, also involuntarily, to the diffusion of a pro euthanasia mentality.
The Conference intends to spark deep discussion in which major progress in scientific field are compared with the ethic dilemma raised by controversial and unsolved problems.
(AP) (17/3/2004 Agenzia Fides; Righe:41; Parole:522)