By: Sr. Clare Hunter
“ “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.” (Jn 21:18-19). Our Lord is pretty specific about the way Peter will follow Him to crucifixion. But what of our own “crucifixions?” Most likely, our hands will be bound by sickness and weakness, paralyzed so that it is another who stretches them as they feed, bathe and clothe us, as we approach death. Can we see this as a kind of suffering and death that will glorify God?
It is one thing to be physically incapacitated, but what about when we can no longer make our own decisions? Once we become adults, we need to make sure we have made provisions for healthcare decisions to be made if we are incapable of making them ourselves. Below are common questions regarding preparation for such a time and about how to obtain an Advance Medical Directive. These questions and answers are a sampling taken from the Diocesan Questions & Answers booklet found on-line that are also provided at your parish in print.
Q: Am I required to have an Advance Medical Directive?
A: No. You are neither legally nor morally required to have an Advance Medical Directive. Federal law requires all hospitals and health care facilities to provide you with written information about your legal right to refuse or accept medical treatment as well as the right to formulate an Advance Medical Directive and/or designate a Health Care Agent, but you are not required to sign it.
Q: What does the Church teach about Advance Medical Directives?
A: The Church advocates that all medical decisions for ourselves or for others reflect the principles of our Christian faith and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. In general, the Bishops favor and recommend designating a Health Care Agent rather than solely relying on a Living Will, as a person acting as an Agent for his or her loved one is able to respond to questions where an inflexible legal document cannot.No matter how well crafted, a Living Will can never predict all the possible problems that may occur at some later time or anticipate all future treatment options. When drawing up a Living Will, you should focus on your general wishes rather than on specific procedures.
Q: How can I ensure that my wishes will be followed if I become unable to make decisions for myself?
A: You can safeguard your values by appointing a responsible and trustworthy person to make decisions for you, if needed. This is best done in writing, usually through a legal document called a “Durable Health Care Power of Attorney” or by naming a Health Care Agent in an Advance Medical Directive. This can protect your wishes and prevent legal conflicts that can arise by failing to outline these wishes to your family or physician. Additionally, you can state in your Advance Medical Directive, both in your Living Will and when designating your Health Care Agent, that all decisions made on your behalf remain consistent with and do not contradict the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.
Q: Must we “do everything possible”?
A: Our tradition does not demand heroic or extraordinary measures in fulfilling the obligation to sustain life. You may even legitimately refuse procedures that effectively prolong life, if you believe these procedures would offer no reasonable hope of benefit or may be excessively burdensome. Our Bishops advise, however, that interventions which favor the preservation of life be utilized if it is not immediately clear that a particular intervention is disproportionately burdensome.