On My Mind
"On My Mind" is a new regular feature of Connections. In it, Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion in Dying, will share her thoughts on events important to our mission.
This issue of Connections describes how one Catholic hospital take-over did not happen as planned. The case demonstrates the power of determined citizens and courageous, selfless lawyers who care about preserving the Bill of Rights. Allowing the Catholic Church to use tax dollars to impose its doctrine on patients would have violated the principle that a government cannot "establish" a religion.
The Church argued that its control should be acceptable, because it can, and often does, apply its doctrine leniently. The priest in charge of medical ethics testified that the Bishop has great latitude in measuring a patient's decision against Catholic teaching.
It is hardly comforting to learn the local Bishop has final authority, and that he often closes his eyes to practice contrary to church doctrine. In effect, this means the Bishop will determine, applying his own idiosyncratic discretion, whether or not my instructions for end-of-life care are honored.
Hospitals exercise enormous power. Most deaths occur in acute care hospitals following a decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining therapy. The Catholic Directives instruct hospitals not to honor an advance directive or allow any act or omission contrary to Catholic moral teaching. The Bishop has final say over whether your particular decision is contrary to Catholic teaching.
Turning over one's most personal and private choices to the local Bishop is indeed an act of faith. But this leap of faith may be totally involuntary in communities where the Church monopolizes health care.
Back to the Compassion in Dying Spring 2001 contents page.
This article was provided by Compassion in Dying. It is a part of the publication Compassion in Dying.