To address issues related to End of Life care, each person should have a Living Will which is discussed and known to family members and friends who may be part of the End of Life care team. There are many different types of Living Wills but only a Catholic Living Will is specific to the teachings of the Church. Having a Catholic Living Will assures that legally your wishes will be protected and honored in accordance with your faith.
A Catholic Living Will is based upon the foundations of our faith and includes five key points:
- Acknowledging that pain may be present as a patient nears the end of life, a Catholic Living Will supports a patient's desire to use medicines to alleviate pain and discomfort. As Catholics we know and accept that suffering is a part of our earthly trial and that we are encouraged to unite and offer up our sufferings with those of Christ. We must also know, however, that we are allowed to request and use medications to alleviate pain.
- The Catholic Church does not allow euthanasia or mercy killing. Nothing can be done to willfully bring about a patient's death.
- Heroic or extraordinary medical treatments are not required for a patient at the end of his or her life. The Church has always taught that we should accept ordinary medical care but that we are not required to accept heroic or extraordinary care. This teaching recognizes the fact that the burdens of some medical treatments may outweigh the benefits. For example, a patient with very advanced cancer is not required to undergo further surgery or chemotherapy when there is little hope of improvement.
- Food and water must be given so long as they are beneficial, even if their administration requires artificial means (such as the use of a feeding tube). Food and water can be stopped, however, at the very end of life when death is near and food and water are no longer of benefit.
- The last provision of a Catholic Living Will asserts that the parish and priest be notified and that the sacraments be given. As Catholics we know the importance and power of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, and the prayers of others at this critical time. We seek, through this request, the sources of grace that will bring us comfort and strength for the end of this life and the beginning of our eternal life with Christ.