by Brad Heidrick
As Catholics, we are pro-life from conception to natural death, from womb to tomb. As we continue to fight for the lives of the unborn, we also need to focus on being pro-life for our aging loved ones at the end of their earthly lives, and also our own lives.
Some fear the word “hospice” due to many misconceptions about what hospice care is and what it entails. Just hearing the word often makes people think they are giving up. After all, none of us like thinking of our loved ones’, or even our own, death.
Being the only Catholic hospice in the Kansas City area, that means serving the spiritual and sacramental needs of the patient, but there is more to it than just that.
Fortunately, our American bishops put together a document entitled the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” (ERDs). They offer us guidance not only on spiritual care, but on critical physical well-being issues at the end of life, such as hydration, nutrition, consciousness and pain management, measuring burden versus benefit, and more.
ERD No. 56 states: “A person has a moral obligation to use ordinary or proportionate means of preserving his or her life. Proportionate means are those that in the judgment of the patient offer a reasonable hope of benefit” (Pope John Paul II, “Evangelium Vitae”).
However, ERD No. 57 then states: “A person may forgo extraordinary or disproportionate means of preserving life. Disproportionate means are those that in the patient’s judgment do not offer a reasonable hope of benefit or entail an excessive burden.”
We have staff members who are certified through the National Catholic Bioethics Center in “Catholic Health Care Ethics.” Our staff adheres to these directives, are regularly trained in them and integrate them into our care for our hospice patients, homecare clients and residents at Villa St. Francis in Olathe.
There are cases where, in fact, we have people “graduate” from hospice. But for those who have a prognosis of six months or less to live, we think it’s the best option to provide specialized care to those who need it, and that means caring for families as well. Families often tell us “we wish we would have chosen hospice sooner for our loved one rather than waiting for just the last few weeks or days.” Hospice is not the end. It is preparation for eternal life.
With the ERDs as our guide, we’re able to provide even better care and even prolong and improve the lives of people that choose the Catholic hospice pro-life option. It is such a blessing as a Catholic to help someone on the last step of their earthly journey before they get to meet Jesus face-to-face.