Memorandum by the Association of Catholic
Nurses for England and Wales
As an organisation we are grateful for the opportunity
to comment on the above Bill, and hope our thoughts will assist
the committee to produce a balanced conclusion whilst ensuring
the continued sanctity and dignity of all human life.
We had hoped to engage the views of all of our
members, but as time is short we were not able to do this as fully
as we would have liked. The attached views are therefore those
of the executive committee of our association with the assistance
of our Ecclesiastical Advisor Rev J B Hurley. Our comments will
be shares fully with our members at the next Annual General Meeting
in October 2004.
The Association of Catholic Nurses for England
and Wales (formally the Catholic nurses Guild) has been established
for over 100 years and is a member of the International Committee
of Catholic nurses and Midwives (CICIAMS). As an organisation
it is concerned with the professional life of nurses on a spiritual
and ethical level, dedicated to the care and respect of human
The Catholic Church teaches us that life is
given to us by God and is to be respected and cherished by all,
from conception to death, and that only God has the right to take
that life away.
2. BELIEF AND
The Association agrees all attempts should be
made to relieve the suffering and distress of those experiencing
terminal illness, to receive the expert help and advice of palliative
care experts, hospice care and given appropriate pain relief and
alternative therapy. This care should be ongoing and in agreement
with the patient.
Our concern is raised when measures beyond those
of adequate pain relief are considered in full knowledge that
the measures considered would end life.
Individuals expressing a desire for assisted
death due to terminal illness have the right to expect analgesia
for the purpose of pain relief, so they may be kept comfortable.
The same as they have the right to be cared for with compassion
and love by professionals, trained to deliver that care. However
it is believed measures that go beyond the accepted level of analgesia
with the purpose of ending life is wrong in the eyes of the Catholic
Church. This is a belief shared by many Christian and non-Christian
beliefs; we therefore do not stand alone in our aim to preserve
Competent adults should, and currently are,
able to decide on whether to accept treatment extending their
life through the direct intervention of healthcare professionals.
This would include the right to have, or not to have further tests,
artificial ventilation or feeding. There are currently many cases
whereby professionals, because of the patient's distress, weakness
or the disease process, question the competence of the adult.
With the assistance of the psychiatrist these decisions often
remain unclear, and professionals are left battling with their
conscience. It is feared this could be the case with those wishing
to take part in the assisted death of the terminally ill and may
leave some questioning their professional knowledge and moral
Concern is raised over pressure that may be
put upon the consultant physician from professional colleagues,
or relatives to support the action should they feel it is in the
best interest to assist them to die. This pressure could easily
be exerted on other health professionals, who work closely with
the patient, and we see nurses very much in this group, to persuade
the physician on behalf of the family. It is understood all physicians
will be clear about their right to refuse to participate in this,
however in emotive situations they may become vulnerable and open
You will be aware nursing staff are often questioned
on ethical issues, and these questions, with increasing frequency,
relate to whether something had been "done" to the patient
to speed the death because of service pressures. This we know
is not the case, but the question will become more common place
should this bill be passed.
It is the belief of the Association of Catholic
Nurses this Bill should not be passed in order to protect the
vulnerable and preserve the sanctity of all life. It is believed
God gives life and should only be taken by God at His Choosing.
The terminally ill should be treated with dignity and respect,
with all aspects of care attended to, to the highest standard,
but no one has the right to choose the time of their dying.