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Moral Dilemma: Declining Medical Therapy for HIV
Jul 29, 1998

Dear Father DeMartini,

I am a Roman Catholic and a gay male. I was diagnosed HIV positive three months ago. T-cells were low and I started onm antivirals at the urging of my doctor. I myself am a health acre provider, so I am aware of the prognosis with medical treatment (many years, long-term survival) and without (usually a matter of a few years). I have had debilitating nausea and vomiting and severe fatigue since starting these medications. My life is a fraction of what it once was, I am a very active person by nature. I have decided to give up the medications.

I am at peace with the HIV, but somehow feel uneasy about declining treatment, knowing it will most probably shorten the time I can survive with HIV, barring getting hit by a bus tomorrow, for nothing is certain.

If the medications would continue my life for decades, I cannot imagine the hell of going on like this. There is no peace in my day. Sometimes I have to stop the medications for 24-48 hours just to get on my feet again, and by the end of the first day, I have my energy, passion, and my life back again! It breaks my heart and my spirit to have to start the medications again, and this last time, I have decided to not start them again.

Am I cheating God in this? I try to follow closely in His will, but my prayer life and spirit suffer so much on medication. I do not expect God will save me from this disease, but I know He will be with me through it all.

Am I wrong seeking this approach knowing it will eventually result in an early death?

I welcome your input.

Sincerely, Adam

Response from Father DeMartini

Dear Adam--Thank you for your very moving letter. I am sorry that it has taken me a while to respond--I have been away at our annual AIDS Ministry Conference in Chicago. In listening to many men and women living with HIV/AIDS and also struggling with adverse effects of drugs, I have learned a great deal about the dilemmas which you face. and I admire your honesty and courage.

First of all, I believe that the rightness of our decisions is linked to a sense of inner peace and acceptance. I am struck by that spirit in what you have said. You speak of being able to pray more easily when you are off the medications--this may be a good time talk to God about your anxiety in stopping meds. I sincerely believe that God answers our prayers in some way---soemtimes in ways we least expect.

I also think that there are others who face this dilemma and hope that you have access to some support systems--especially ones in which matters of faith and spirituality are welcome. I do know of several wonderful pastoral counselors in Florida and would be happy to give you their names if you wish. You can contact me directly by phone at 707-874-3031 or e-mail to

I keep you in my prayers and pray that your sense of peace will grow and that God will hold you close. Fr. Rod

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