Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 21, 2010
Catholic hospitals ensure compassionate care
The disabled, the young, the elders all risk being judged not deserving of care by their physicians, hospitals
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
Recently I met a couple whose son was severely brain injured in a motorcycle accident a few years ago. Soon after the accident, the parents discovered a DNR order (Do Not Resuscitate) was placed on their son's chart by the treating physician.
This happened without their approval or knowledge. They challenged the doctor and eventually were successful in having the DNR order removed from their son's chart.
These wonderful parents have become diligent and tenacious advocates for their son. He can only communicate by blinking his eyes and has told his parents he wants to live.
This is only the latest in a number of cases where medical decisions not to treat - or stopping treatment of brain-injured people - were made without proper consultation or approval of the patient's family. These cases only came to my attention because the families were not prepared to accept life and death decisions made by treating physicians.
Actually that's an inaccurate way of describing each situation; the truth is that the treating physician decided to stop treating. The medical profession has a term they often use: futile care. That too, is often an inaccurate description. In the example of the motorcycle crash victim, the "treating" physician behaved as though the patient was futile.
DNR DEATH SENTENCE
I participated in a panel discussion at an American university: the panel was made up of eight people with various severe disabilities. I was the only panellist who had not been openly pressured to sign DNR orders when being admitted to hospital for treatment.
Across North America, we are seeing the bitter fruit of post-Hippocratic medicine where the sanctity of human life ethic has been replaced by a quality of life ethic.
But who defines "quality of life" and by what standard? Will it be the hospital's ethics committee or the treating physician? Should it be the patient's family or the patient - and based upon what criteria? What if the patients are too young or unable to express themselves?
There seems to be a new societal view that death is preferable to disability. It's ironic. People with disabilities are receiving conflicting messages from our culture. At the same time as euthanasia is gaining prominence and acceptance, great strides are being made to include the disabled in society.
Human rights legislation declares that people with disabilities are to be included in society, yet the ultimate exclusion of euthanasia is quietly practised in hospitals across North America - with or without family consent. Are the disabled welcome or not?
Thankfully, there are still Catholic hospitals: They operate within a general consensus that human life is sacred. Whenever I have entered the Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton for medical care and see a cross hanging on a wall, I feel reassured and my anxieties subside.
Church teaching forbids any action designed to hasten a person's death (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2276-79). Granted, it does recognize that discontinuation of treatment can be legitimate, in certain circumstances, but only if it is "burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary or disproportionate to the expected outcome."
The Catechism is clear that the motivation for stopping treatment must never be intended to bring about death. Even if death is thought to be imminent, ordinary care normally given to the sick cannot be interrupted.
Dying or gravely ill people are still entitled to food and water, normal warmth and cleanliness, the alleviation of suffering - all things necessary to sustain human dignity. The best possible palliative care must be given to dying people in Catholic hospitals.
Catholic hospitals and health care are important options for the terminally and chronically ill, as well as people with profound disabilities.
It is critically important to us because we need to know our lives will always be valued and our deaths will not be hastened, regardless of how compromised or hopeless our medical situations may become.
Chronically ill and severely disabled people must be able to rest knowing we will never be abandoned, even if treatment is deemed futile. Such assurances cannot be guaranteed in secular hospitals.
As medical ethics continue to coarsen in our post-Christian culture, the uncompromising standard of care found in Catholic hospitals can and must serve as a vivid witness for the love of Jesus Christ and how his love is expressed in caring for the sick or dying.
God has given the Church the privilege of holding up the sanctity and dignity of human life at every stage, state and eventuality in an era that increasingly devalues imperfect or unwanted humanity.
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