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On May 30, 2017 the New York State Court of Appeals heard oral arguments for the case of Myers v Schneiderman. This is a case regarding the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in New York and the court’s decision is expected later in June. Overall, the courts did not have an interest in defining a broad constitutional right to assisted suicide, but some of the judges did bring up the point that the State does already allow for patients in certain situations to be sedated into unconsciousness and to then die of starvation or dehydration. The statements from the judges so far fail to mention human dignity, although many of the briefs mentioned human dignity extensively.
The statement from the judge referring to end-of-life care and how patients can be sedated and die from starvation and dehydration is concerning. There are different types of care provided to extend life and these are grouped majorly into two important categories based upon the particular situation. These categories are known as ordinary treatments and extraordinary treatments.
The Church’s document Now and at the Hour of Our Death, provides a definition of these two types of treatments. Ordinary treatments are defined as means that offer a reasonable hope of benefit and do not entail excessive burden on us, our family or the community. Ordinary treatments are morally obligatory and are different from extraordinary treatments (Now and at the Hour of Our Death, 3).
Extraordinary treatments are treatments that are not morally bound and exist to extend the dying process by using every medical treatment available. Extraordinary treatments are not morally obligatory because the burdens and consequences are not proportional to the benefits that might be anticipated for the particular patient (Now and at the Hour of Our Death, 3).
The document Now and at the Hour of Our Death, also provides a section on assisted nutrition and hydration. In general, it is morally obligatory to provide nutrition and hydration to those in a vegetative or unconscious state. There are situations however where food and hydration can be considered excessively burdensome and of little to no benefit to the patient. In these situations, if nutrients and hydration is not provided, death occurs from the disease and not from starvation or dehydration (Now and at the Hour of Our Death, 5).
No matter what the situation a person might find themselves in, no human being is ever separated from their dignity from the moment of their conception to the moment of their death. We hope and pray that the court and the overall legislature come to this understanding and make a decision that brings a greater appreciation of and focus on human dignity and the truth that life is the most important gift.