Catholics warn of assisted dying risks in palliative care bill

Catholic groups in the US are concerned that a key omission in a bill supporting palliative and hospice care could allow federal funds to be used for practices like assisted dying.

Last week the US House of Representatives passed the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act by voice vote.

The bill funds efforts to increase palliative care faculties at medical schools. It also funds palliative care and hospice training and education.

Palliative care involves pain management and physical, psychological and emotional care for those suffering from a serious illness.

This type of care can be provided alongside medical care.

Hospice care is when palliative care is given to patients with a terminal diagnosis, who do not wish to unnecessarily prolong their life through extraordinary means of medical care.

At the same time, these patients wish to remain as comfortable as possible.

The new bill requires federally-funded palliative care to be in accord with Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997.

This means the funding cannot promote “assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.”

However, changes in the bill’s language has some Catholic groups, including the U.S. Bishops Conference, concerned.

This is because the bill currently before the House omits language contained in the Senate version of the legislation.

The Senate bill states:

“As used in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) palliative care and hospice shall not be furnished for the purpose of causing, or the purpose of assisting in causing, a patient’s death, for any reason.”

This clarification is significant because it offers a definition of palliative and hospice care that specifically excludes any act that would hasten or bring about death.

It refers to certain controversial practices which some in the medical community recognize as a legitimate part of palliative care, but which may cause or assist in causing the death of the patient.

“We support the Senate version, and we made it clear to both the House and the Senate that we want the Senate version to prevail,” Greg Schleppenbach, associate director to the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says.

Schleppenbach says the language in the Senate bill is key to providing a sound definition of palliative care.

This is important, as some in the medical community are advocating practices that are contrary to the Church’s teaching on palliative and end-of-life care.


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