The Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying Patient (LCP), a framework introduced for providing comfortable care at the last stage of life, has recently become highly contentious. Among the most serious allegations levelled against it, has been that the LCP may be used as a covert form of euthanasia by withdrawal of clinically assisted hydration (CAH). This concern has been raised, in particular by a number of Catholic medical professionals, who have asserted that the LCP is incompatible with Catholic ethics. This paper examines the key Catholic ethical principles relevant to treatment and care towards the end of life (the sanctity/inviolability of life principle, the distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means). Relevant current clinical evidence regarding CAH in relation to terminal thirst, dehydration, prolongation of life and possible negative impacts on the dying is also scrutinised. It is argued that for some patients at the very end of life it may be permissible and even desirable to withhold or withdraw it. Thus, as administration of CAH may become extraordinary, forgoing it in some situations is fully compatible with Catholic ethics. The article therefore concludes that the stance of the LCP in respect of provision of CAH is fully in alignment with Catholic teaching.
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