Living wills

Living wills

So what would be an appropriate living will according to Catholic moral teaching? That seems to be the unanswered question. This sample will from the New York State Bar Association seems to violate some parts of the Church’s teaching. Can anyone give me clear guidelines?

The Catechism is only a beginning. It tell us only that direct euthanasia is murder, yet the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment is permissible. So on the one hand:

Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.

Yet on the other hand:

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted.

And we are finally told: “Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted,” i.e. the use of heavy painkillers even if they hasten death.

So how does that apply to Terri Schiavo’s condition? How about a coma? How do we define brain-death? If there are no higher brain functions, but only autonomic responses that will sustain me for years as long as I am fed through a tube, what then? I genuinely want to know the answer to these questions if only to prepare a clear document now so that my family would be relieved of the burden of having to do this later.

I’ll be doing more study. Are there any moral theologians in the house who want to offer their perspective?

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli

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