Why Catholics Should Avoid Secular Living Wills

Deborah Sturm on Pro-Life Alternatives

ALIQUIPPA, Pennsylvania, NOV. 11, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Living wills got a lot of attention as Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman, died a lingering death after her feeding tube was pulled.

One critic says those living wills are not always the answer to avoid a contentious end-of-life dilemma.

Deborah Sturm, a registered nurse and member of National Association of Pro-Life Nurses, addressed the problems living wills pose for Catholics at the recent meeting of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

A living will is a type of health-care advance directive: written instructions individuals establish regarding what they do or do not want for medical treatment in the event they cannot speak for themselves.

“The standard living-will documents that are advocated by those who support euthanasia have a general presumption for death,” Sturm told ZENIT. “The language is often ambiguous and can be interpreted by a health-care provider in a variety of ways that a patient did not intend.

“Some living wills allow for the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration — which, of course, includes food and water — if a patient is comatose or vegetative,” she said. “It is against Catholic teaching to refuse a patient nutrition and hydration just because they have these diagnoses.

“In other words, a living will can kill a person.”

Sturm suggested that Catholics seek out living-will documents that have a “general presumption for life” from pro-life agencies such as National Right to Life, the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force and the American Life League.

“All of these documents involve designation of a health-care proxy who speaks for the patient when they cannot speak for themselves,” Sturm said.

“The proxy should be someone who is knowledgeable about the patient’s pro-life Catholic worldview and who is solidly grounded in a pro-life worldview themselves.”

Reception of sacraments should be specified, Sturm said.

“Catholics should also make sure that a document — or their proxy — directs that their spiritual needs be taken care of, for example, reception of the sacraments of reconciliation, viaticum and anointing of the sick,” she advised.

Lastly, Sturm stressed that individuals should rectify all paperwork.

“If they have already signed a living will,” she said, “they should ensure that it is properly revoked — in writing.”

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