April 1, 2016
Catholics know there are guidelines for health care decisions, but those can often be clouded by uncertainty and confusion between spiritual and legal needs.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference can serve as a resource for providing a Catholic health care directive that meets the state’s legal requirements, expresses Church teaching, and reflects the recommendations of church, health care, and community leaders. All those combined can be overwhelming, especially when dealing with a very emotional subject such as death.
First off, North Dakota Catholic Conference (NDCC) offers some terms to help understand some of the basics. A living will usually means a document in which a person states only his or her health care wishes. A durable power of attorney for health care usually means a document in which a person appoints someone to make health care decisions on his or her behalf. Advance directive usually means a living will, a durable power of attorney for health care, or a combination of the two. Health care directive is what North Dakota state law calls any advance directive. A health care agent is what state law calls the person appointed through a health care directive to make health care decisions for another.
North Dakota Catholic Conference also provides a list of basic questions. Many Catholics might be asking themselves how end-of-life decisions can honor their beliefs. For more, go to ndcatholic.org and click on the Health Care Directives tab. The site also includes forms to download and resources for more information.
Contact NDCC at 1-888-419-1237 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
5 Frequently Asked Questions
(Sourced from North Dakota Catholic Conference)
Why would I want a health care directive?
A health care directive can help make sure that your health care wishes are followed when you cannot speak for yourself. In addition, a health care directive can help your family and friends during what may be a difficult time.
Should I appoint a health care agent or just write down my wishes?
The North Dakota Catholic Conference recommends that your health care directive include the appointment of a health care agent.
Written instructions alone are only as good as your ability to accurately predict every possible future medical condition and every future medical treatment option. This is an almost impossible task. In addition, without a health care agent, the person interpreting those instructions might be someone who does not truly know what you wanted.
By appointing a health care agent, you can make sure that someone who cares about you will apply your wishes and personal beliefs to the health care choices at hand – just as you would do. Even if you appoint a health care agent, you can still give written health care instructions to direct, guide, and even limit the actions of your agent.
What should I do with my health care directive?
Provide a copy of your health care directive to your doctor and any other health care providers such as your hospital, nursing facility, hospice, or home health agency. In addition, you may want to give copies of your health care directive to other persons, such as close family members, your priest, and your attorney, if you have one.
How can I make sure that decisions made on my behalf are consistent with my Catholic beliefs?
State in your health care directive your desire to have all health care decisions made in a manner consistent with Catholic teaching. The Catholic Health Care Directive does this.
Appoint a health care agent who shares your beliefs or, at least, sincerely intends to respect your wishes.
If your health care agent is not familiar with Catholic teaching on these matters, give your agent the name of a priest or lay leader who can provide guidance. You can include the name and contact information of that person in the health care directive. You may also want to give this information to your health care provider.
Are Catholics morally obligated to have an advance directive?
No. However, a health care directive, especially one that appoints a health care agent, is one way to make sure that your care and treatment is consistent with the Catholic faith and your wishes.