The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock expressing their concern and opposition to a court ruling to withdraw life support treatment from a Catholic Polish patient in an English hospital.
In the letter, the bishops convey the offer of the Polish authorities to help transfer the patient, known as Mr RS, to Poland for his future care.
The letter is signed by Bishop John Sherrington, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’ Bishop for Life, and the Bishop of Plymouth, Mark O’Toole, the local bishop.
The letter follows a request from Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, who wrote to Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, asking for his intervention in the case.
In their letter to Mr Hancock, the bishops state that they speak on behalf of Cardinal Nichols in expressing their opposition to ‘this definition of medical treatment and to convey the offer of the polish authorities to assist in the transfer of Mr RS to Poland for his future care’.
They note that, while they accept the legal process concerning Mr RS has been completed, they continue to ‘pray for agreement within the family about the treatment and care to be provided and express the desire of the archbishop that Mr RS be transferred and cared for in Poland’.
‘We wish to express our prayers and compassion for Mr RS and his family in England and Poland and recognise the profoundly tragic health condition which he faces,’ they add.
Mr RS, a Polish citizen who has lived in Britain for many years, fell into a coma after suffering a heart attack in November. He was given artificial hydration and nutrition at a Plymouth hospital. However, the Court of Protection gave permission to University Hospitals Plymouth National Health Service Trust to withdraw artificial hydration and nutrition earlier this month.
The family appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to halt the case but its application was dismissed. The European court later also rejected an application from the Polish government to repatriate the patient.
In their letter to the Health Secretary, the bishops state: ‘The Catholic Church continues to oppose the definition of assisted nutrition and hydration as medical treatment which has now become the basis of medical and legal decisions to withdraw assisted nutrition and hydration from patients.
‘Providing food and water to very sick patients, even by assisted means, is a basic level of care. This care must be given whenever possible unless it is medically indicated as being overly burdensome or failing to attain its purpose. The recent court cases concerning patient Mr RS in the care of the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust has shown the level of controversy around this definition as judges have been called to make decisions in the ‘best interests’ of the patient.
‘We note that Mr RS had not refused food and fluids nor had he expressed any view about not wanting food and fluids in these circumstances and that there was no evidence that he viewed assisted nutrition and hydration as medical treatment.’
Picture: Health Secretary Matt Hancock.