The Observer in the UK reported that Catholics there have taken to carrying special ID cards informing doctors that they do not wish to be deprived of food and fluids in the case of admission to hospital.
In a growing worldwide trend, doctors in the UK consider what used to be routine care — administration of nutrition and hydration, by artificial means if necessary — to be "treatment" which can be refused or denied.
The UK's Association of Catholic Women (ACW) which produced the ID cards, had sold nearly 26,000.
"We were greatly concerned that ANH (artificial nutrition and hydration) was considered as 'treatment', and could be withdrawn if the patient was deemed to have a 'poor quality of life,' thus leading to death by starvation/dehydration," explained a spokesperson for the ACW.
The card is a simple blue card stating: "In case of my admission to hospital please contact a Roman Catholic priest. I would like my nursing care to include fluids — however administered."
Food and water, once considered basic humane care to be offered to every patient, now have increasingly been relegated to "medical treatment" and considered optional depending on a patient's likelihood of recovery and/or future quality of life.
UK doctors were warned in November that they may face prison sentences if they refuse to withdraw food and fluids from patients who have previously indicated they do not want medical treatment.
Dr. Peter Saunders, head of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said at the time that the new government guidelines were not a concern for dying patients whose bodies could no longer assimilate nutrition.
"But we are concerned that patients will make unwise and hasty advance refusals of food and fluids without being properly informed about the diagnosis. It is too easy for patients to be driven by fears of meddlesome treatment and ‘being kept alive,' into making advance refusals that later might be used against them."
Dr Jacqueline Laing of London Metropolitan University, who called the measures an obvious "cost-saving" effort on behalf of the National Health, said the Act "inverts good medical practice by criminalizing medical staff who intervene to save the lives of their patients with simple cures and, in certain cases, even food and fluids."