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A Judge’s Reversal and Catholic Health Care Ethics

Grattan Brown, S.T.D.

In the sad story of Casey Kasem’s final days, Judge Daniel Murphy was right to require doctors to feed Kasem and right to reverse that decision a few days later.

Grattan Brown 010 300x200 A Judge’s Reversal and Catholic Health Care Ethics

I remember Casey Kasem’s voice so well. Just that memory made it sad to imagine the suffering he endured. He suffered from dementia, from the inability to speak, and from all that goes with being bedridden. Because his particular condition, Lewy body dementia, is difficult to diagnose, he likely suffered from not really knowing what he had.

He also suffered from his family members fighting over him and from having been “stolen” by his wife and hidden from his children and friends during his final weeks of life. Finally, he was the subject of court battles, including one in which the judge had to assign different visitation times to his wife and to his children. In the end, he suffered from a judge’s having to decide between his children’s demand to remove his feeding tube so that he would die and his wife’s demand to continue feeding him so that he would continue to live

At first, Judge Murphy ordered that feeding be continued. Then within 48 hours, Judge Murphy reversed his decision and ruled that feeding could be discontinued. From media reports, we do not know exactly why Judge Murphy reversed his judgment. It could be that Judge Murphy initially thought feeding appropriate for someone like Kasem, who was in an extremely debilitated condition, and then changed his mind. If so, feeding could be withdrawn from a patient who is expected to live but not improve, which would end the patient’s life. Some would call this euthanasia.

Or it could be the Judge Murphy based both judgments on consistent ethical principles, rather than a change of mind about a controversial practice. According to media reports, the judge based his final decision on a review of Kasem’s medical records, which by law are not made public. If those records showed that artificial nutrition and hydration could no longer have prolonged Kasem’s life or perhaps could not have been absorbed by his body, then the judge’s reversal simply allowed the withdrawal of a treatment that could no longer do its work, or had even become harmful to Kasem’s body. Kasem seems to have been in this condition because he died only a few days after withdrawal, while patients whose bodies have been absorbing nourishment typically live longer, as Terri Schiavo did for a couple of weeks after withdrawal. The judge’s reversal seems to have been following this rationale.

If so, it cuts against a rather disturbing trend in end-of-life care. Daughter Kerri Kasem sought withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration because her father’s advanced directive indicated that he would not want it if continued life “would result in a mere biological existence, devoid of cognitive function, with no reasonable hope for normal functioning.” Through his advanced directive, Casey Kasem was asking for death even at times when he would have continued to live, though in an extremely disabled state. By initially refusing to withdraw feeding, Judge Murphy declined to cooperate in bringing about Kasem’s death. It appears likely that, from the evidence initially presented to him, the judge had to assume that Kasem would continue to live and that withdrawing nutrition and hydration would cause his death.

The difficult question is precisely that: whether causing a patient’s death, by withdrawing nutrition and hydration, is a morally acceptable way for our society to relieve suffering. Descriptions such as “mere biological existence” are not helpful because they mask the human dignity that no condition can take away. I doubt that experienced caregivers of the severely disabled would consider their patients’ existence to be merely “biological” because those patients have permanently lost consciousness. It is easy to see Kasem’s wife, Jean, as completely irrational after seeing that ridiculous meat tossing video. Yet if anything in her bizarre behavior comes from a willingness to care for a severely disabled man, I will give her some credit for authentic love.

When the judge reversed his decision, it was not based on some sudden agreement with Kasem’s children to end their father’s life. Instead, he based it on a review of Kasem’s medical records, which perhaps showed that the celebrity’s body was no longer absorbing food, or that his lungs were aspirating fluid, or that death was imminent within a few days.

It is telling that a Catholic institution, St. Anthony Hospital, provided Kasem’s final care. Catholics have wrestled for several decades with when to provide and when to withdraw artificial nutrition. In a 2004 address, the late Pope St. John Paul II drew a conclusion that harmonizes with sound moral thinking as well as with Christian faith: artificial nutrition and hydration must be provided unless the body cannot absorb them, unless they cause physical harm, or unless they cannot reasonably be expected to prolong life. That standard respects both the dignity of the severely disabled and the natural contours of the dying process. Sometimes patients such as Casey Kasem require strenuous efforts from caretakers; at other times, the willingness of loved ones to say goodbye.

If the physicians at St. Anthony’s Hospital determined that continued feeding had become harmful to Kasem’s body or could not reasonably prolong his life and communicated that fact to the judge, then they too are to be thanked for helping bring peace to a tragic situation.

Grattan Brown is an Associate Professor of Theology at Belmont Abbey College

Wednesday, June 25, 2014|Categories: Faculty|Tags: |

2013 Fall Sports Preview

This fall, the Belmont Abbey College Crusaders are looking to add to the ever growing collection of Conference Carolinas championship banners hanging in the Wheeler Center. Last fall, both Women’s Soccer and Women’s Volleyball won their respective conference championships in stunning fashion (and Men’s Basketball won in the spring), and this season they are looking to repeat that success. Men’s Soccer also hopes to join the ladies when they take to the field and make a run at turning losses into wins.

2012 Womens Soccer championship 2013 Fall Sports Preview

Women’s Soccer

There is no reason why the Women’s Soccer team should not be able to make it to the conference championship rounds this season. Last year, the Lady Crusaders made their sixth NCAA tournament appearance, their third in the last four years. This season’s squad returns eight starters that were part of last year’s championship team and includes fourteen new freshmen. The team’s fitness training and successful preseason could foreshadow a winning season.

Things are going “better than last year,” Coach Lynch said. “The team came into camp at a good fitness level; a testament to their desire to achieve our goals again this year. These goals include graduating leaders of virtue and excellence, dominating and winning the Conference Carolinas, and advancing at the NCAA Tournament.”

When Coach Lynch was asked what the team’s weakness was this season, he responded, “Our defending back line as we graduated three of the four in the back (Alana Ryzcek, Kristin Foster, Kiera Woerner, all four year starters). Their shoes are big ones to fill. However, I am confident we will find a few players ready and able to step in.”

In September, the ladies faced another very tough non-conference schedule against top-ranked teams in the region including Tusculum, Newberry, Lees-McRae and Pfeiffer. These teams “certainly show us where we need to keep working,” said Coach Lynch.

Men’s Soccer

According to Coach Keating, the Men’s Soccer team has no weaknesses, but rather, “only under-developed strengths. Our biggest goal is to infuse the program with a culture built around our 15 core values. Everything must flow from that.” Abbey sports teams have many great values, making cheering for them that much more rewarding. Some of the values that our Men’s Soccer team focuses upon include selflessness, classiness, respect, humility, resilience and perspective.

Women’s Volleyball

The Women’s Volleyball team is also looking for a repeat Conference Carolinas championship with several strong players returning and a full list of solid, fresh players joining the team as well. Head Coach DeJute said that this intensive number of new pla2012 Womens Volleyball championship 2013 Fall Sports Previewyers, thirteen freshmen in all, will be a weakness on which the team will need to work.

Victoria Jensen, a senior Elementary Education major, was part of the conference championship team last season. “This year,” she said, “we are building chemistry on and off the court with our new freshman. They are an awesome group of girls and have so much energy and passion for volleyball.” When asked what challenges the team faced at the start of the season, Jensen responded, “[They] include getting back into the habit of morning practices (which preseason prepared us for) and needing to bond quickly with all of our new teammates, which has been going really well!”

Women’s Cross Country

The Women’s Cross Country team will be looking to improve on last year’s fifth place finish at the Conference Carolinas meet, as well as working to be a top twelve team at regionals. Last fall, the team placed seventeenth in the regional meet, which included ten schools in the conference and thirty-four in the region.

The team is led by sophomore Lucy Schmitz and senior Ally Craven. Both girls are returning All-Conference runners, and Craven was All-Regional last Fall. Schmitz and Craven, along with sophomores Brianna Mosby and Kaitlin Howard and freshmen Elena Fea and Marilyn Guevara, are projected to be the top five runners for the ladies this fall, according to Coach De Witt.

Schmitz developed into the second-best freshman distance runner in Division II last spring with her school record performance in the 10,000m run. She was also the only Division II freshman 5,000m runner to qualify for the USA National Under-20 Championships held in Des Moines, IA over the summer.

Men’s Cross Country

Like the ladies, the men are also looking to improve their previous success by advancing up the ranks in the conference and in the region. They hope to be in the top five for the region. To achieve this goal they will be working closely with the top two programs in the conference and region, King’s and Mt. Olive. Last fall, the Men’s Cross Country team was third out of nine in the conference and eighth out of thirty-three in the region. Last season was the first time the team ranked and placed in the top ten of the region since joining Division II.

All-Conference performers senior Tim Gill (also a returning All-Regional runner) and sophomore Ryan Caulley hope to lead the team to a successful season. Gill and Caulley, along with seniors Dustin Stewart, Frank Spicer and Mike Rogers and sophomore Dave Iverson, are forecasted to be the top six runners this fall.

“In cross country, the goal is to run your best individual races,” said Coach De Witt, “which contributes to the team performance at the most important meets. I consider all of the other meets as practice for the regional meet at the least and the national meet as the goal. We do not gear our training to be at our best for the [conference] meet; it is just the final meet in the progress to be ready for regionals.”


For more information, including live stats, please visit the Abbey Athletics’ website at

Sunday, November 10, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized||

Belmont Rail Trail Coming Soon

For those students who have yet to find that one perfect running route or those who avoid the spider web overhangs and debris lining the railroad tracks when walking to downtown Belmont, help is on the way! This summer, Governor Pat McCrory signed official approval for the “Belmont Rail Trail,” yet another step for the long-awaited running and biking trail that will make its start at Belmont Abbey College.

belmont rail trail2 Belmont Rail Trail Coming Soon

Photo courtesy of Anthony Wyatt

For those students who have yet to find that one perfect running route or those who avoid the spider web overhangs and debris lining the railroad tracks when walking to downtown Belmont, help is on the way! This summer, Governor Pat McCrory signed official approval for the “Belmont Rail Trail,” yet another step for the long-awaited running and biking trail that will make its start at Belmont Abbey College.

The trail, a ten-foot-wide greenway that will run alongside the unused railroad track that spans from North Belmont to Belmont Abbey College, will allow students a safe and scenic route to their favorite downtown shops and restaurants, another way to get to classes at the Sacred Heart campus, or simply a fresh route for early morning runs. It is still currently unknown when the trail will be completed, but significant progress is currently being made. The trail will likely be completed within two years.

The “Rail Trail” project has been in the planning stages since 2011, but has recently experienced delays. According to Adrian Miller, the Belmont Assistant City Manager for Community Services, “[The trail] has been pushed back a bit due to an unexpected need to ask for special state legislation for the project by the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA). The NCGA approved a bill to allow us to build the greenway in the NCDOT railroad easement as long as we received approval form the owners of the property on which the railroad easement exists.” With special assistance from Gaston representatives Senator Kathy Harrington and Representative John Torbett, the bill was approved unanimously in the NCGA before receiving final approval from Governor McCrory in June. The project now lies within the hands of Belmont residents. Local property owners who would be affected by the trail will be consulted by the city council at a public meeting (the date of which has yet to be determined, but will likely be within the year).

The Belmont Rail Trail will become a new piece of the “Carolina Thread Trail,” a landmark project devoted to establishing and protecting North Carolina’s natural areas in the hopes of explorative, scientific, cultural and historical progress. As such, special funding from the Thread Trail will be gifted to the Rail Trail to help cover the costs associated with planning and land development. With funding, state approval and likely support from Belmont residents, the Belmont Rail Trail finally shows signs of coming to fruition despite years of setbacks.

By: Kevin Miller for The Crusader Online, Student newspaper of Belmont Abbey College

September 20, 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized||