The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have expressed their deep sadness and offered prayers following the death of a Catholic Polish man whose life support treatment was withdrawn following a highly-controversial court ruling.
The bishops have also called for those requiring clinically assisted nutrition and hydration to be treated with proper human dignity, while the man’s family accused the British authorities of authorising “euthanasia by the back door”.
Mr RS, a Polish citizen who had 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 clinically assisted nutrition and hydration 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.
Following Mr RS’s death on 26th January, The Christian Legal Centre, which has been supporting Mr RS’s family, said his death had come “just as Poland was seeking to enforce a judgment of its courts to have him airlifted to a Polish hospital for further treatment and care”.
Mr RS’ mother, whose name cannot be published under the Court order, said she is “devastated” by her son’s death, as she accused the British authorities of deciding to “dehydrate my son to death”.
“What the British authorities have done to my son is euthanasia by the back door,” she said. “Depriving him of nutrition and hydration is functionally the same as giving him an injection to end his life, except that the entire process is longer, degrading and inhumane treatment.”
Responding to the news of Mr RS’ death, a spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales told The Catholic Universe: “We are deeply saddened by the news of the death of Mr RS and offer sincere condolences to all of his family both here and in Poland,”
“We wish to assure them of our prayers for the repose of Mr RS’s soul, and in doing so we will be joined by the Catholic community here, whose hearts have been touched by this tragic case.
“We pray that what happened here will not be repeated in the future, and hope that all those requiring Clinically Assisted Nutrition and Hydration (CANH) will be treated with proper human dignity.
“May he rest in peace.”
The CBCEW stated: “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.”
Bishop John Sherrington, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’ (CBCEW) Bishop for Life, and the Bishop of Plymouth, Mark O’Toole, the local bishop, had previously written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock expressing their concern and opposition to the court ruling and made him aware that the Polish authorities had offered to help transfer Mr RS to Poland for his future care.
Bishop O’Toole said he is “deeply saddened” by Mr RS’ death.
“My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, children, mother, sisters, and niece and with all those who loved and cared for him,” he said.
“Local clergy will continue to offer pastoral support to the family living in Plymouth, as they have done throughout his time in hospital.”
According to the Christian Legal Centre, the night prior to Mr RS’ death, the family’s lawyers urgently wrote to the hospital’s lawyers, insisting that nutrition and fluids be reinstated in view of the diplomatic status granted by Poland and the decision of a Polish court. However, the hospital refused to re-commence life-sustaining treatment in the morning, and reported Mr RS’ death later during the day.
The Christian Legal Centre said the Polish government is to be “commended for its diligence”, which, it said, included granting Mr RS diplomatic status in its efforts to bring him home to Poland. “Similarly, legal efforts supporting the family were tireless and included exhausting all available appeals including two applications to the European Court of Human Rights,” the centre said.
Picture: Stock image of a hospital ward. (beerkoff).