April 1, 2016
Editor’s note: A parishioner of the diocese submitted the following personal story to illustrate the importance of advance health care directives. Some details have been changed for privacy reasons.
Last year, my brother John, age 57, suffered a stroke on a Monday morning at work and was taken to a local hospital, placed in ICU on a ventilator. Doctors said he would be affected on his right side and may require therapy for speech, walking, feeding himself, etc. They predicted he would regain consciousness within the week.
Some members of the family met with doctors and made the determination that John’s quality of life would be poor and would not be in line with his wishes to live that way. Family was split on the decision to remove John’s respirator. The majority’s wishes, especially the wishes of his mother, prevailed. John did not have a health care directive.
After two days, my brother was put on a morphine drip and removed from the ventilator after which he continued to breathe on his own. This was Wednesday evening, less than 72 hours after his stroke. John died Saturday morning. During this time period, he received no hydration or nourishment, but morphine was continued.
Numerous attempts at intervention were made by those who disagreed with this treatment plan and preserve John’s life. Some of us siblings were opposed to the decision based on our Catholic faith. Local priests were consulted. Attempts to change the decision were again made when John continued to breathe on his own.
Some family members contacted the hospital’s ethics committee through risk management in an attempt to intervene. An attorney was contacted and asked to obtain a court order to provide hydration for John. On that Friday, the court issued an opinion that the hospital staff should “consider hydrating.” A hearing was scheduled for Monday.
Despite some family members’ efforts, Church teaching of a moral obligation to provide food and water was ignored. Those fighting for John’s life felt this was an illegal, so-called “mercy killing” at certain family members’ request.
How can anyone be certain that Catholic teaching is followed concerning end-of-life decisions? Might things have turned out differently if John would have had an advance healthcare directive?