27 January 2021, The Tablet

Polish Catholic dies after life support withdrawn

Polish Catholic dies after life support withdrawn

Protesters hold a banner saying England don't kill innocent Poles during a demonstrationin defense of Mr. Slawek's life at the British Embassy
SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has expressed its sadness over the news that a Polish Catholic, who had been in a coma, has died after the hospital withdrew life support.

The patient, known to the media as Mr RS, fell into a coma after a heart attack in November of last year, and had been on artificial hydration and nutrition (but not respiration) since that time. He passed away yesterday after the request by the Polish government to have him transferred to Poland for care was rejected by the British and European courts. 

The situation of Mr RS is tremendously ethically complicated, with his wife and children wanting him to be taken off life support, and his Polish mother and sister asking for it to be continued. Mr RS’ mother has accused the British government of seeking to “dehydrate my son to death” calling the decision “euthanasia by the back door” and saying: “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.”

Catholic bishops lobbied intensely against the decision to withdraw care, and a spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said: “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.”

In their statement on the death the Bishop’s Conference also reaffirmed that: “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.”

This marks another high profile case of a UK hospital choosing to withdraw treatment over the objections of family members and the offer of continued care in other countries, as happened in the Alfie Evans case. In a statement on Tuesday the Polish Archbishop Gadecki, who had been leading the campaign in Poland to continue RS’ treatment, said “I express my deep sorrow over the death of a Polish man in Plymouth. I pray for heaven for him and for comfort for his family. Let us boldly say ‘NO’ to the barbaric civilization of death.”

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