Have you done any work in hospice? What do you think about keeping a patient alive wholly on life support when this is the only thing that is keeping the patient alive? The patient is brain dead. If a dear loved one gives their consent to pull the plug? Do you think this loved one has committed a sin and murder? Or they have done the right thing?

Have I done any work with hospice?  Well, let me just say that I have been known to work with hospice patients from time to time...

Of course I have done work with hospice!  I have had to work with many families through their grief, and help them as they make the difficult decision to remove life support.    

First some clarification.

There isn't just "Brain Dead."  This is part of the issue when doctors communicate with families.  There are, as I understand it, two distinct definitions of "Brain Dead."  

Brian Death can refer to one of two possibilities:

1) Brian Death: No discernible higher brain wave function.  In such a case the person may not be conscious, or they might be conscious but have no higher function--reasoning powers.  There involuntary functions are still in tact however.  They are still breathing on their own, they are producing waste products, etc.

Terry Schiavo fell into this category. This is why there was so much outrage over her murder.  Just because someone does not have higher reasoning abilities and needs constant nursing care, does not justify starving them to death.  Terry was breathing on her own.  They didn't remove a respirator and allow her to pass away (which would have been fine) they stopped feeding her, causing her to die of starvation.  That is murder.  

2)  Brain Death: There is NO discernible brain wave activity.  In this case, from all appearances, the person is being kept alive solely by machines.  If the machines are removed, the person will pass away. In these cases it is morally permissible to remove life support and allow a person to pass away.  There is a difference between preserving life----and holding off death.  

While it is permissible to refuse treatments, etc, and pass away, one cannot do anything to actively cause or hasten death. In the case of Terry Schiavo it might have been fine for the family to stop whatever medical treatments she was on and allow her to naturally pass away.  However, food and hydration are not considered "extraordinary means."  Even when allowing someone to pass, they must be properly hydrated and fed.  If they can't physically eat, they should at least be hydrated through the IV.  Pain medication is morally permissible.  However, one cannot administer pain medication with the expressed purpose of hastening death.  

In answer to your question, then, no.  I do not believe that families who make a decision to cease medical treatment and remove the respirator are sinning. That action while painful and difficult is morally permissible.  

Removing life support, however, is different from outright murder.  One may not starve a person to death, or give them medication that will cause their death.  A person must be allowed to pass away on their own.  


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Father Dave Bechtel


I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.


I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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