St. Mary Roman Catholic Church at 210 West Main Street, Manchester, MI 48158 US - Making End of Life Decisions
|Making End of Life Decisions|
Making End of Life Decisions WHERE DO WE BEGIN?
Sooner or later we will all have to face the fact that we will die. Sooner or later we will have to make decisions regarding our health care as we approach the end of our life. As Catholic Christians we must remember some very important Catholic moral principles when we start thinking about making decisions regarding our spiritual and medical care.
First, we must remember that our life is sacred. Our lives do not belong to us; they are not our private property to do with what we want. Our bodies, our lives belong solely to God and not to any human being.
Second, we must be vigilant not to fall into the worldly utilitarian mentality that if I cannot ‘do’ anything, that if I am not ‘productive,’ I am a ‘burden’ to others; therefore if something happens to me, my automatic response is I do not want my life pro-longed. Our value as a human being is not based on what I can ‘do’ but on ‘who’ I am: I am a child of God at every stage of my life and always precious in his eyes.
These are two important principles that must inform how we look at our life and the lives of others. If we hear family, friends, our acquaintances referring to themselves as ‘useless’ or a ‘burden’ then must help them to understand the truth of the sanctity of their life.
OUR FAITH MUST LEAD US
Our Catholic faith must inform every aspect of our lives. When it comes to making decisions about medical care and end of life decisions, we should always turn to the magisterial teachings of the Church. We are children of the Church. The Church is our mother and teacher; she will always lead us and guide us to make decisions regarding our health care and end of life care that are consistent with God’s will.
As our earthly life nears its end we want to make sure that we do not make any decisions that will reduce our lives to ‘objects’ that can easily be tossed away. We do not want to do anything that will endanger our eternal salvation. We must not make decisions regarding our health care that will directly cause our death.
Because these are such important decisions that we are considering, we should consult the Church through her local pastors to make sure that we are thinking with the mind of the Church. This is especially true if are making written directives regarding advanced health care.
When making advanced health directives, there are things that we are allowed to do and things that we must never do. We should not give concrete directives, but rather be guided by Catholic moral principles which the person who has been given power of attorney for our health care decisions must follow should we be incapable of making them for ourselves.
An example of a concrete advanced directive to avoid states that: “If anything happens to me. I do not want, my life prolonged.” We do not have a window into the future to know what is going to happen to us; we might need life-support to help us through a temporary health difficulty. Food and hydration, even intravenous, should be considered ordinary care and should never be withheld unless the body is rejecting it.
ADVANCED HEALTHCARE DIRECTIVE
It is a very good idea to have what is called an Advance Health Care Directive. However, it must be a directive that is in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church1. It is quite easy to find samples of such directives online. Many Catholic Dioceses in the United States have prepared them for their people to use when making these most serious and important decisions2. I can help you with finding an advanced directive that is Catholic.
Power of Attorney for Health Care decisions must only be entrusted to people who will follow the moral principles of the Catholic Church. I cannot underscore how extremely important this is. Once again, as Catholic Christians we must approach these decisions in communion with the Church in order to ensure that we are maintaining the sacred dignity of our life and refrain from offending God. A good rule of thumb to use to guide us when preparing to make any serious decision about our life is this: What does God want?
Another problem with secular Advanced Health Care Directives is that they are not concerned about the spiritual care of the person, which is so often forgotten about when making end of life care decisions. The following is a section taken from an advanced directive regarding spiritual care: “If I fall terminally ill, I ask that I be told of this so that I might prepare myself for death, and I ask that efforts be made that I be attended by a Catholic priest and receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick as well as Viaticum.” This serves as important reminder to care for the soul as well as the body. It is the state of the soul that will determine where both body and soul will spend eternity.
My personal experience as a priest has shown me that many Catholic people, good people, who when it comes to making decisions regarding end of life care neither consult their pastor nor give a thought to the moral teachings of the Church. Many Catholic people sign legally binding documents that are in direct opposition to the moral teachings of the faith, often oblivious to what they are signing. I saw firsthand how signing such a document ended up with the administration of food and hydration being withheld. This person was not dying. Because of this document this person was being starved to death because their secular advanced directive, which they signed, stated that if something happened to them they did not want to have their life prolonged. They had signed their own death warrant and were totally unaware of it.
In the limited space allotted for this article it is impossible to treat this important life issue with great depth. But hopefully it has alerted us to how important it is that we do all that we can to maintain the sacred dignity of our life and allow the Church, our Mother and Teacher, to guide us in making these important end of life health and spiritual care decisions.
For more information please consult the following resources:
1 National Catholic Bioethics Center: A Guide to End-of-Life Decisions – www.ncbcenter.org
2 The Diocese of Cheyenne: Advanced Healthcare Directive – http://www.dioceseofcheyenne.org/pdf/AdvancedHealthcareDirectives.pdf
Making End of Life Decisions
WHERE DO WE BEGIN?