An Italian doctor charged on refusing medical care that would have kept Pope John Paul II alive longer.
In an article in the Italian journal Micromega, Dr. Lina Pavanelli, an anesthesiologist, questioned why John Paul was only outfitted with a nasal feeding tube on March 30, 2005, three days before he died. She said he clearly was in need of artificial nutrition well before then.
John Paul was rushed to Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic hospital two times in February of 2005 with breathing crises related to his Parkinson's disease; he was released for the last time March 13. He died in his Vatican apartment on April 2, from what the Vatican said was septic shock and cardiocirculatory collapse.
The Vatican announced March 30 that John Paul had been outfitted with a nasal feeding straw to improve his nutrition so he could recover strength.
However, Vatican officials said Wednesday that the tube had been inserted well before March 30 but that the procedure was only announced on that date. They disclosed the information in response to Pavanelli's charges, which they said weren't serious because she had no access to the pontiff's medical records and based her accusations only on press releases and news reports.
At a press conference Wednesday, Pavanelli acknowledged she didn't have access to the pontiff's medical records and acknowledged the likelihood that he may have been outfitted sooner than March 30 with a nasal feeding tube.
But she maintained her core argument that he was not given adequate nutrition soon enough, saying he actually should have been given a stomach feeding tube since he needed longer term artificial nutrition. She says she assumes John Paul's doctors offered him that option, but that he must have refused the treatment since he wasn't given it.
Catholic teaching holds that it is morally wrong to refuse "proportionate" or ordinary care, which includes water and feeding tubes; refusing such care amounts to euthanasia.
"He was fed neither at the right time, nor in the right way for the correct amount of time," Pavanelli said. That created a situation in which the pope was too weak to fend off the urinary tract infection that led to the septic shock that ultimately killed him, she charged.
In the article, Pavanelli concludes that "when the patient knowingly refuses a lifesaving therapy, his action together with the remissive or ommissive behavior of doctors, must be considered euthanasia, or more precisely, assisted suicide."
The Vatican recently repeated its position on euthanasia and feeding tubes. A document issued Sept. 14 from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed that it considers the removal of feeding tubes from people in vegetative states to be an immoral act.
The Vatican distinguishes between feeding tubes, which it considers proportionate care, and "aggressive medical treatment" which can be disproportionate to any expected results or pose an excessive burden on the patient.
"In such situations, when death is clearly imminent and inevitable, one can in conscience refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted," according to John Paul's 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae."
Pavanelli appeared at a press conference Wednesday to defend her claims alongside the widow of Piergiorgio Welby, who has been at the center of a right-to-die campaign in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.
Welby, a paralyzed writer who suffered from muscular dystrophy, died in December after a doctor carried out his wish and disconnected his respirator.