End-of-life issues and care topic for women in Danville

By: By Jennifer Willems

DANVILLE — Those who attended a day of reflection that was sponsored by the Peoria Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and hosted by St. Paul’s Church had some sobering thoughts to take into Mass and adoration on June 30.

The theme for the day focused on end-of-life issues and care for persons who are seriously ill or dying. Addressing the 35 participants were Father John Ugobueze, director of pastoral care at Provena United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville, and Father Gregory Nelson, pastor of St. Paul’s Parish.

The basis for Father John’s presentation was Part Five of the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” which was updated and issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last November.

“It views a community of love, respect, and support for the patient, their families and their loved ones, especially when they face death,” he said. “The bishops are so intelligent — they tell you step by step what we need to do.”

While he briefly discussed euthanasia, assisted suicide, sterilization and abortion, Father John focused primarily on Directive 58, which deals with providing food and water to patients who are seriously ill.

“It says, in principle, that we need to give them food and water and medically assisted nutrition and hydration,” he explained. “In addition, it says that this extends to persons in a persistent vegetative state — they retain their dignity in the image and likeness of God.”

Medically assisted nutrition and hydration, which is administered when someone can no longer take food orally, can be optional when the patient isn’t deriving any benefit from it, he added.

The decision cannot be based on a diminished quality of life, however. Father John said some doctors only look at the externals and probability of survival, “but this is the life of a human being. . . . We don’t have to rush it.”

It may be considered “burdensome” when the patient is not able to digest food anymore or it becomes painful and futile, for example.

“There is a time when we must know we have done our part in this life and God is calling us into his presence,” he told his listeners. “What do we do then? We respond to that call.”

They can be partners with God in this way, but must carefully discern God’s leadership in these issues, Father John emphasized.

Because these are issues everyone will face eventually, it is best to be prepared, he said, encouraging them to look into a document known as an advance directive.

“We need to know what the person wants before it happens,” Father John said. “An advance directive states how you want to be treated when you are no longer able to make decisions. In this way, the patient may not be over treated or under treated.”

He noted that when people come to the hospital, it is recommended that they have an advance directive. Father John added that the document should be filed with their physician and kept in an accessible place in their home, such as where they might put their checkbook.

In concluding his presentation, Father John offered some case studies and talked with the women about what issues needed to be considered in each instance.

Both priests told them that no decisions should be made without the guidance of a priest or someone involved in pastoral care, as well as their medical professional.

Father Nelson followed up by providing resources for more study about end-of-life issues, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church, pertinent books, and “Eternal Rest Grant Unto Them O Lord,” a pastoral letter on death, dying and Catholic funeral rites that was issued in November 2008 by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC.

He also clarified church teaching on cremation, which is permitted as long as it is not done for reasons against the Catholic faith.

“In my experience, to have the body at the funeral is much more consoling,” Father Nelson said. “You’re going to grieve sooner or later — it’s better to do it sooner.”

In addition, he talked about the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, which is no longer called “last rites.”

“It’s a sacrament of healing,” he told the women. Patients may receive when they face a serious health issue or “the serious gets worse. You can receive it as many times as you need to.”

Father Nelson also celebrated Mass for the participants, heard confessions during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and offered them a final blessing.

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