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Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 26, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2006

James T. Bretzke
Pages 183-200
DOI: 10.5840/jsce20062628

A Burden of Means
Interpreting Recent Catholic Magisterial Teaching on End-of-Life Issues

THIS ESSAY FIRST PRESENTS GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR INTERPRETING magisterial documents using Lumen gentium's triple criteria of considering the character, manner, and frequency of magisterial teaching in order to better determine its relative authority and weight. Next, these criteria are applied to a close reading of Pope John Paul Il's various documents that deal with end-of-life issues, especially his controversial March 2004 address to the participants in the International Congress on Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas. This analysis concludes that the pope did not in fact assert that artificial hydration and nutrition had to be used in virtually every medical case, such as patients diagnosed to be in a persistent vegetative state.