The Palliative Care blog team members, from left, are: Marianne Wachalovsky, N.P.; Chaplain Gretchen Shilts; Valerie Froman, LCSW; Dr. Terry Van Aken; and Patty Kramer, director of Social Services/Palliative Care.


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What is Comfort Care? | Main | When Religious Beliefs are at Odds with a Natural Death

The Catholic Position on Health Care

Questions often arise regarding Catholic teaching pertaining to healthcare by patients who are Catholic as well as those who care for them when in our hospitals.

There are different interpretations about what the Catholic Church teaches. In an effort to make known the Church's stance, the following quote from the document of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2009, titled, "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services." Part Three, Directive #32 is offered for your thoughtful review.

"While every person is obliged to use ordinary means to preserve his or her health, no person should be obliged to submit to a health care procedure that the person has judged, with a free and informed conscience, will not provide a reasonable hope or benefit without imposing excessive risks and burdens on the patient or excessive expense to family or community."

From this directive, it is clear the emphasis is on the benefits and burdens of treatments. This is especially true when assisted nutrition and hydration are being considered. Such treatments are inappropriate when the patient is dying and can no longer utilize the substances or when patients have end-stage dementia or very advanced cancer. What about patients with progressive diseases who require artificial nutrition? If competent to do so, they may make a decision to have a feeding tube placed or to discontinue tube feedings at any point in their disease process.

No one is obliged to undergo interventions that are burdensome or that offer no realistic expectation of the restoration of health. On the other hand, families of very ill patients and their healthcare providers are encouraged to consider accepting the limits of life and not stand in the way of a life ending in natural death. 

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