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Part of God’s plan for you is the care you are to receive at the end of your life.

by Sr. Charity, SV

While the end of life is a sacred time of preparation for eternal life, it can also be a time of trial. The need to make difficult medical decisions can lead to a lack of peace. The Church has much wisdom to offer in these decisions. Taking time now to learn about the Church’s teachings and to make necessary preparations can alleviate fear and confusion in the face of future illness.

The pitfalls of living wills

Half of those over the age of 65 who are admitted to a hospital are unable to make decisions for themselves due to sickness. Many people choose to prepare by making “advance directives:” medical decisions made ahead of time in the event you become unable to speak for yourself. The most common forms of advance directives are the living will and the health care proxy. A living will (e.g. Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment [MOLST]) is a legal document that details which treatments you would and would not like to receive if you are unable to speak for yourself in a time of illness. The living will can be dangerous because it requires you to make decisions about your care without the ability to foresee particular circumstances. For example, dialysis is sometimes necessary as a short-term treatment in a medical emergency. However, if you have ordered in your living will that you not be put on dialysis, health care providers will be unable to give you the proper care since they are bound by law to follow the living will.

A health care proxy / The better option

Catholic ethicists strongly recommend avoiding the living will and, instead, designating a health care proxy. A health care proxy is a person who will speak for you in health care decisions if you cannot speak for yourself. Since they are able to assess the circumstances in real time, they are better able to advocate for your care according to Church teachings. It is recommended that everyone over the age of 18 — healthy or sick — appoint a health care proxy, as you no longer have a legal guardian. This is done by filling out a simple form which can be found online. If you do not designate a health care proxy and you become incapacitated, the state will appoint a surrogate decision-maker from a prioritized list of relationships (spouse, adult children, sibling, etc.). Choosing a proxy for yourself ensures that someone who shares your Catholic values will be able to advocate for you. Having a conversation with your proxy while you are well will enable you to communicate your desire to be treated according to Church teaching.

You are worthy of profound reverence.

The beauty and wisdom of the Church’s teachings on end-of-life care ring with this truth. You are not a burden. You are made for love. God desires that you be treated with particular care as you prepare to meet Him face-to-face in heaven.

Originally published in IMPRINT Fall 2020

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