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What should Catholics consider when drafting advance directives?

On Behalf of | May 24, 2024 | Estate Planning

Advance directives are customized instructions that outline the creator’s wishes for their medical care if they become incapacitated. For some individuals, including Catholics, religious considerations are an integral part of the decisions they make in this regard.

The Catholic Church teaches the sanctity of life, which means that every effort should be made to preserve life while acknowledging that death is a natural part of life. This belief guides decisions regarding life-sustaining treatments, palliative care and end-of-life care.

Benefits versus burden of care

Catholics must look at the benefits of care and the burden the care provides. If a treatment’s benefits are greater than the burden of it, it’s likely a good idea to put it in the advance directive. If the burden is greater than the benefits, that treatment might need to be bypassed.

This aligns with the Catholic teaching that while one isn’t obligated to pursue every possible means to prolong life, ordinary care should always be provided. For example, hydration and nutrition are necessary for life and can be administered artificially as long as they don’t cause significant discomfort or other harm.

Catholics should include directives that reflect their belief in the inherent dignity of the human person. An advance directive should clearly state that any treatments intended to cause death directly are unacceptable. This might mean opting for palliative care that alleviates suffering without hastening death.

Appointing a healthcare proxy

A healthcare proxy is an individual appointed to make medical decisions on behalf of the patient if they become unable to do so. For Catholics, it is important to select a proxy who understands and respects Catholic teachings on medical ethics and end-of-life issues.

The chosen proxy should be someone who can make decisions that align with the patient’s values and religious beliefs. It is advisable for the patient to have detailed conversations with the proxy about their wishes and the principles that should guide their care.

Sacramental considerations

In an advance directive, Catholics should address their desire for access to the sacraments at the end of life. This includes the sacraments of Anointing of the Sick, Reconciliation and the Eucharist. These sacraments provide spiritual comfort and strength, and their administration should be a priority as one approaches death.

Every aspect of an estate plan should align with a person’s beliefs. Working with a legal representative who understands a Catholic’s religious beliefs and how they can impact an estate plan is critical to avoid missteps.