The last few weeks have been filled with numerous news stories of end of life issues and interesting online dialogues have taken place.
It is not my goal here to rehash some of the earlier conversations. I want to use the momentum of these discussions to introduce you to (or remind you of) some helpful documents that American Catholics need to be familiar with.
We as Catholics have a huge advantage over other traditions when it comes to understanding something as complex as end-of-life ethics. We have the luxury of centuries of some if the greatest minds in human history committed to understanding and communicating Truth added to some of the greatest minds of today who can help us apply theoretical teaching to real life situations.
It is our task, however to understand how to apply the teachings, writings, traditions and directives so that in the moment we can make prudent decisions for ourselves and those we are tasked with making decisions for.
Prudent end-of-life decision making is so important when deciding levels of intervention. Not agressive enough treatment may mean lost time the person could have lived and too-aggressive treatment may result in painful and futile procedures that are of no benefit to the sick person.
Please notice I don\’t say \”withdraw care.\” Care is an attitude of helpfulness; interventions are treatments and procedures. It is a misnomer to ever say that medical professionals \”withdraw care\” even if they withdraw aggressive treatments and procedures.
It is a common misconception that Catholics are directed to preserve life at all costs. The Bishops have addressed many circumstances and made the Directives easily available for us to review:
This is a wonderfully helpful document that every Catholic adult should familiarize themselves with. If you choose not to read it now, please save the link to have as a reference in case you are called upon to make healthcare decisions for yourself or others. I specifically want to point out two items from section 5:
56. A person has a moral obligation to use ordinary or proportionate means of preserving his or her life. Proportionate means are those that in the judgment of the patient offer a reasonable hope of benefit and do not entail an excessive burden or impose excessive expense on the family or the community.
57. A person may forgo extraordinary or disproportionate means of preserving life. Disproportionate means are those that in the patient’s judgment do not offer a reasonable hope of benefit or entail an excessive burden, or impose excessive expense on the family or the community.
In addition, I suggest people visit the website of the National Catholic Bioethics Center. They have excellent resources and offerings plus the availability of well educated Ethicists for consultation.
Part of the reasons to know of these resources is that some (even well intentioned) Catholics involved in media and social media may misunderstand situations and/or expound based on opinion rather than teaching. I don\’t believe there is a conspiracy to intentionally deceive and misinform the lay faithful, but I have seen circumstances where misinformation is passed and shared and perpetuated.
These two sources I mention (along with encyclicals from Rome) are the closest we have in our society to a final word on complex bioethical issues. Again, we are blessed to have a \”final word\” resource for some of life\’s hardest challenges; I can\’t imagine being in a faith tradition where my only resource is the opinion of a local pastor.
I am interested in the questions / comments that this might spark. I especially invite experts who may know more than I do about other excellent resources.