A DOCTOR has the right, but not necessarily the obligation, to make use of modern techniques of artificial respiration to keep a person who is in a desperate condition alive, stated the Pope last Sunday.
The Holy Father was addressing the International Congress of Anaesthetists and was answering questions put to him by Dr. Bruno Haid, head of anaesthetics at Innsbruck University Clinic, on the moral and religious rights and duties of doctors in the field of reanimation. i
Asked whether a doctor had the right and the duty to apply modern techniques of artificial respiration in all cases. even when, in the opinion of the doctor. they arc considered absolutely useless, and what attitude a doctor should take if the patient's family opposed the use of such techniques, the Pope answered that the anaesthetist had the right to act in this manner in ordinary cases.
However. he did not have the obligation to do so unless it was the only way to satisfy another certain moral duty. " The rights and duties of a doctor arc correlated with those of the patient," stated His Holiness: "In general, he can act if the patient authorises him explicitly or implicitly."
"The technique of reanimation . . . is not in any way immoral," he continued. "Thus the patient. if he is capable of a personal decision, may use it and instruct the doctor to use it."
Since, however, such techniques went aeyonil the ordinary means to which one was obliged to have recourse. the Pope said, there was no actual obligation on doctors to use them or on patients and their families to authorise doctors to do so.
" The rights and ,duties of the family, in general, depend on the presumed wishes of the unconscious patient. if he is of age and `sui juris.." the Holy Father continued. As for the family's own independent duty, it only normally demands the use of ordinary means.
"Consequently, if it appears that the attempts at reanimation constitutes in reality such a burden for the family that it cannot in all conscience be imposed upon it. the family may insist that the doctor should interrupt his attempts, and it is allowable for the doctor to consent."
[This last statement presumably refers chiefly to cases where continued attempts at reanimation would impose an intolerable burden on the finances of the family. and would seem to apply to countries which do not have a system of low cost medicine for those in needs of it.]