Caplan & Earnest, Attorneys at Law

About the Author(s)

Gregory James Smith works with home health agencies, provider networks, medical and technology enterprises, nonprofits, medical practices, physical therapy practices, chiropractic practices, rehabilitation agencies, and related trade, professional and charitable organizations. He also has extensive legal experience in business matters, including mergers, acquisitions, entity organization and operation, and contracting and regulatory compliance.


Theology, religion, bioethics, Roman Catholicism, persistent vegetative state (PVS), artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH), Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERD).


This paper discusses the methods used in Catholic Social Teaching (CST), a part of the Catholic Moral Tradition (CMT), as applied to bioethical problem solving and decision-making. In order to apply CST to a concrete bioethical problem and to analyze the methods used in CST, the nature and extent of the obligation to provide artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) to patients in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) is addressed. In particular, this paper focuses upon the extent to which providing ANH to PVS patients is or should be considered morally obligatory. In this discussion, the current official view of the Roman Catholic Church (Church) is reviewed, as evidenced for the United States by the changes made in 2009 to Directive 58 of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERD), as well as contrary viewpoints. This paper argues that the methodology of CST, which includes the balancing of benefits and burdens, is a practical and ethical way to resolve difficult bioethical cases, including those where care decisions need to be made for patients in a PVS, defending against concerns that have been raised by some in or speaking for the Church about the withdrawal of ANH from PVS patients.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


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