Hydration and nutrition: continuity of care should be guaranteed by law

An article by Undersecretary Gabriella Gambino on the value of human life

A reoccurring theme in the international news cycle are the dramatic cases of persons in critical—but not terminal—condition who, following decisions made by doctors and the civil courts but contrary to the wishes of the family, endure the discontinuation of nutrition and hydration. They die from lack of fluids and nourishment, on account of a clinical protocol or a judicial sentence rendered in anticipation of an imminent death based on a presumptive evaluation, adopted in the so-called “best interest” of the now-unconscious patient. 

“Killing a person by means of the law—i.e., that instrument which should be the defense par excellence of each and every life—is an effect of that ‘euthanasic tendency’ which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith spoke of with solemn clarity in the recent Letter Samaritanus bonus. The unassailable value of human life, as we read in Samaritanus bonus, is a fundamental truth of the natural moral law, which expresses our common humanity and frailty, and is an essential foundation of the legal order.” With these words, which appeared in her article in L’Osservatore Romano on Saturday, 30 January, Undersecretary Gabriella Gambino invites us all to reflect on the foundational concept of continuity of care for every person in critical medical condition. She reiterates that nutrition and hydration are the ordinary basic care owed to every person, and the deprivation of this ordinary care constitutes a supremely unjust action.

In our society, where the paradigm of law dominates every dimension of common life, it is urgent to rethink the function of law and to reconsider that characteristic coldness which intrinsically belongs to it. When made void of every value, legal science turns into an icy tool—one which not only takes away all hope from those who still have the right to live, but which also inflicts suffering on the family. Instead, in order to remain just, the law must be a sign of order deriving from God’s mercy, since justice is never exhausted self-referentially, but rather is fulfilled in God, standing before His face and through the merciful action of human beings towards each other. Only the warmth of mercy can, in fact, prevent what is objectively false or wrong from becoming subjectively “right,” bringing humanity back away from the icy law of postmodernity.

02 February 2021
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