Diocese introduces Advance Medical Directive forms

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The Arlington Diocese recently released a new document intended to help sick and aging Catholics maintain responsibility for their own end-of-life decisions. The document, "Catholic Advance Medical Directives," provides information about Catholic moral teaching, as well as medical and legal terminology, and allows a person to stipulate who will be in charge of their health decisions and what kinds of treatments and procedures they would prefer.

The document was a joint effort between the Arlington and Richmond dioceses. It serves as an update to the previous Advance Medical Directives, released by the diocesan Office of Family Life in August 2002. Once signed in the presence of a witness, it is a legal instrument that meets commonwealth of Virginia requirements and serves the same purpose as a living will.

According to an introduction letter from Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde and Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, the" Catholic Advance Medical Directives" were released "in order to help ease the moral and spiritual concerns that so often arise when dealing with the passage from life to eternity."

"It is our hope that those who make use of these documents find peace of mind and soul in the knowledge that suffering, while a trial, can always become a source of good when united to the suffering of Christ crucified," the letter read.

Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Sister Clare Hunter is director of the diocesan Respect Life Office, the office in charge of distributing the document.

According to Sister Clare, the document is valuable because it provides a resource Catholics can use to plan ahead for their end-of-life situations, a time many people don't want to think about.

"It forces us to think about 'what I'd like,' but particularly that it be in union with the Catholic Faith," she said. "Between television shows and movies and our own life experiences, we can become kind of afraid of becoming incompetent."

She referenced a quote from Scripture, in which Jesus says to Peter, "Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."

"One day, we will all be bound in terms of our own (physical or mental) incompetence," she said. "We think of that scenario and we really in our minds can think, 'I'd rather be dead; I don't want that to be me,' and then we can make decisions that could possibly go against moral teachings and damage our soul."

By using the forms, Catholics can declare a loved one to be their health care agent who will act on their behalf if they are deemed incapable of making important decisions for themselves. They can also put down in writing their beliefs and desires regarding issues like the requirement of nutrition and hydration, organ donation, and preventing any treatments that could be described as euthanasia or assisted suicide.

"It helps to make their wishes known about the type of care they want and end-of-life approaches," said Father Paul deLadurantaye, diocesan secretary for catechetics and sacred liturgy, who helped compose the new document, along with Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, and representatives from the Richmond Diocese.

"One of the things this advance directive says is, 'I want to follow the teachings of the Church,'" Father deLadurantaye said.

Especially in an area as tricky as medical end-of-life issues, having a person's wants, needs and moral convictions down on paper can be helpful -resulting in less stress and conflict for all involved, including family members.

Sister Clare believes all Catholics could benefit from filling out the form.

"We tend to think end-of-life as having an age-appropriate focus, but anybody could be in an accident at any moment," she said. "I think at all ages, we should be considering what it is we would want or not want.

"It is critical that people come to understand the end-of-life teachings of the Church," she said. "It (can be) very complicated and very difficult, but under it all, the Church is merely trying to protect the dignity of the human person."

Get the document

"Catholic Advance Medical Directives" are available through parishes and the Respect Life Office. They also can be found online at arlingtondiocese.org/respectlife/adv_med_dir.php.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011