Does Your Estate Plan Include A Pro-Life Medical Directive?
When you get your estate plan done, it is an opportune time to make sure that decisions involving serious medical treatment issues will be made consistent with your Catholic values. This is important as it enables you to clarify to your family and friends what your wishes are when it comes to critical end of-life medical decisions. Unfortunately, many Catholics overlook getting an Advance Medical Declaration that is consistent with Catholic teachings on end-of-life matters. In fact, many people sign Living Will forms which may lead to health care treatment that is contrary to Catholic pro-life teachings.
Without written medical treatment instructions, a person's surviving family is left guessing what a relative's wishes are concerning end-of-life medical decisions. Should they insist that the hospital continue to provide life-sustaining care to their aged and sick parent, or should they yield to pressure to consent to their loved one being euthanized by discontinuance of ordinary life-sustaining care?
Often, Catholics who seek guidance on end-of-life matters are told that it is permissible to stop providing normal life-sustaining care to a loved one who has become hospitalized. This is unfortunate since it "paves the way" for a faithful Catholic's family to give their consent to something that is wholly inconsistent with Catholic moral teachings; the euthanizing of their loved one.
Let’s be clear. Euthanasia is not a permissible choice for Catholics. However, this does not mean that Catholics need to fight death heroically by employing every available medical procedure to oppose death. In the Declaration on Euthanasia, the Congregation for the Doctrine of faith states "When death is clearly imminent and inevitable, one can in conscience refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted. See, Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia (1980).
It is important to understand the real meaning of the term "normal care" when you are considering your end-of-life medical planning. Many Catholic medical ethicists believe that unless a patient is near death and can no longer assimilate food and fluids, providing the patient with nutrition and hydration should be considered "normal care".
Why do Catholics need to be knowledgeable about such a detailed medical issue when they are doing their estate planning? It is because the many Catholics end up including a Living Will document in their estate plans. The Living Will is a commonly used, yet misunderstood estate planning document, which usually gives the hospital permission to cease providing normal ordinary life-sustaining medical care to a patient.
There are "code" words that Catholics should be on the look out for when reviewing a Living Will or other Medical Treatment document before deciding whether to sign the document. These code words include terms like comfort care, quality of life, heroic measures, and artificial means. You may want to exercise caution before signing a Living Will form that contains these problematic terms. This is because such a document may put you at risk of not receiving life-sustaining care which, according to Catholic teachings, may be considered normal care and morally obligatory.
Instead, when getting your estate plan done you may want to consider getting a Pro-Life Health Care Declaration that directs your health care providers to provide you end-of-life health care which respects your pro-life Catholic values.
Seek the advice of an independent advisor, legal, medical or financial, before implementing any planning strategies or ideas. If you would like more information, ideas, or help with this process, please call Barbara Kilarjian at 516-678-5800 ext. 257 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or get ideas on what type of legacy you can leave at www.drvc.org/planned-giving