Filed under: Pro-life
This may be surprising, but in the last six months I have encountered the issue of medically assisted nutrition and hydration for those in the dying stage of life, on three separate occasions.
I want to discuss one of these times in which the person I spoke with did not come at the issue from an overtly spiritual or moral perspective, but rather spoke about it from a genuinely human perspective and demonstrated a commonsense gut reaction to the issue.
Last fall, I attended a luncheon for health insurance professionals and as you can imagine at such meetings the health care bill was a topic of discussion. A woman sitting at my table brought up Sarah Palin’s statement about death panels and stated that this was already happening.
She went on to recount the story of her sister’s death. Her sister had cancer and was told that she had about two months to live. She was told that Medicare would no longer pay for hospital care that included nutrition and hydration care. Medicare however would pay for hospice care which would not continue medically assisted nutrition and hydration care and without these her life expectancy was reduced to one or at most two weeks. This woman pointed out that since her sister’s family did not have the financial means to pay for hospital care they reluctantly chose hospice care. She ended her commentary with “It really stank.”
My impression was that this woman was not a Catholic or Christian, and the family did not pursue all of the alternatives, but her reaction to the situation was profoundly human and true. This was not the right way to die.
With this in mind, I decided that I would put a lot of links that might help the Catholic better understand the mind of Christ and the Church on this issue.
First of all the Church considers nutrition and hydration even when medically assisted, ordinary not extraordinary care. The following links are helpful in understanding this teaching.
The most concise statement that I have found on this issue was in the Guide to Health Care Directives on the North Dakota Catholic Conference of Bishops website – click here to download these directives. Here is the statement from these directives on this issue:
There should be a strong presumption in favor of providing a person with nutrition (food) and hydration (water), even if medically assisted. Providing nutrition and hydration should be considered ordinary care since it serves a life-preserving purpose and the means of supplying food and water are relatively simple and – barring complications – generally without pain. Exceptional situations may exist in which this is not the case, such as when a person is no longer able to assimilate nourishment, or when death is so imminent that withholding or withdrawing food and water will not be the actual cause of death. In no case should food or water be removed with the intent to cause death.
Here are a few more websites that are helpful:
Sister Paula Vandegaer who runs International Life Services also has a website on end of life issues:
Many hospice organizations have lost their original mission – here is an organization that is trying to preserve the original intent of hospice.
Rita Marker has a good website on the issue of Euthanasia from a pro-life perspective.
The following story was told by Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life in her Dec. 10, 2009 address to the Nothing More Beautiful Congress entitled Witness to the Grace of Jesus Christ.
After recounting the story of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth Mother Agnes reflects:
“How did Elizabeth know that Mary was carrying the unborn Jesus?” our founder would ask. “Remember how Mary had exchanged her word for the Living Word, the Son of God, who would be conceived beneath her heart? That same Living Word reached out and touched Elizabeth.
“She hadn’t received any advance warning that Mary was coming, no telephone call or telegram, and there was no way she could have known that Mary was carrying the Son of God. But Elizabeth did know – she knew that Mary was the Mother of God because the infant in her womb leapt for joy.”
That’s the power of the Christ child within the womb of Mary. It radiated outwardly from that womb and penetrated the womb of Elizabeth, purifying John the Baptist as you and I are purified of original sin at Baptism.
At this point in the address, Mother Agnes goes on to recount a true story of a young pregnant woman whom they ministered to:
Let me tell you a recent story which is nearly a present day recapitulation of this New Testament event. As part of the 40 Days for Life, Janet and her friends, local faithful Hispanic women, witnessed before an abortion mill in Stamford, Conn., each week on their way to work.
A young woman, Maria, who came to the clinic for an abortion appointment, came over mistakenly to speak with one of them. In the midst of the conversation they realized that this woman did not want an abortion, but without support for herself and her child, she had surrendered in desperation.
In the midst of the conversation, Janet and her friends realized that they needed to leave to get to work and called the Sisters of Life to ask them to continue where they had left off and to help link this young vulnerable pregnant woman with the resources she would need.
Our only Spanish-speaking sister was on an errand away from the convent that morning and other sisters who were home when the call came in went hurriedly to pick her up, and to bring her to the convent so that they might talk to get to know Maria and to understand her needs.
Just that week, in the entrance foyer of our convent and retreat house a beautiful stained-glass window of Our Lady of Guadalupe, had been installed to mark the fifth anniversary of our retreat mission at Villa Maria Guadalupe. Our Italian sister from Brooklyn, launched into the use of her limited Italian, and another sister broke out Spanish she hadn’t used since college telling the young woman in literal and poor Spanish: “This is the home of your mother.”
They continued communicating using the only language they all shared – the universal language of love.
After some time our Brooklyn sister remembered the Spanish Bible in the library, and returned with it encouraging the young woman to read the story of the Visitation – Mary’s visit to Elizabeth following the Annunciation of the angel and conceiving the Christ Child.
As the young mother read the story silently to herself, tears poured from her eyes as she exclaimed: “That is what happened to me as I looked at the window of my mother. The baby leaped in my womb.”
These are pictures of the stained glass window of Our Lady of Guadalupe,that was installed to mark the fifth anniversary of the Sister’s of Life retreat mission at Villa Maria Guadalupe.