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The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Volume 21, Issue 3, Autumn 2021

Daniel P. Sulmasy
Pages 453-482

Artificial Nutrition and Hydration and Care at the End of Life
Whose Perspective? Which Natural Law?

New Natural Law Theory and the Catholic medico-moral tradition often lead to similar conclusions in hard cases regarding end-of-life care. Considering the provision of artificial nutrition and hydration to patients suffering from post-coma unresponsive wakefulness, however, brings to light subtle ways in which NNL differs from the centuries-old natural law tradition. In this essay, I formalize the methodology embedded within the casuistry of the medico-moral tradition and show how it differs from NNL with respect to the role played by double-effect reasoning and the perspective for analyzing cases regarding care for those who cannot speak for themselves. Importantly, the ordinary/extraordinary means distinction has never historically been understood as an application of double effect and logically cannot be so understood. Given the outsized role that double effect plays in NNL, the theory leads to conclusions that deviate from the Catholic medico-moral tradition and creates additional burdens and duties for the sick.