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Kansas bishops issue new ‘end of life’ document to help planning for death

By Joe Bollig
Leaven staff

KANSAS CITY, Kan. —  As the controversy over removing Terri Schindler Schiavo’s feeding tube graphically demonstrated, you can’t leave decisions about your life and death in other’s hands.
And this leaves faithful Catholics with a very important question: What
The bishops’ letter

Our Dear Catholic People:

When we gather as a family of faith each Sunday, we profess our faith that death is not the end of life, but rather the beginning of eternal life: We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  We Catholic bishops of the State of Kansas invite you to reflect on these words in the light of the enclosed Catholic Declaration of Life and Natural Death.
This Declaration is designed to reaffirm the teaching of the church on the dignity of human life, and to help others both to know and, in the case of the other ’s incapacity, to follow another person’s wishes about health care decisions.  We invite you to read and to pray over and to share this material with your family members, friends, and advisors.
It is morally permissible for a Catholic to sign this Catholic Declaration of Life and Natural Death. We encourage you to consider doing so, and to select and designate a durable power of attorney for health care decisions, and to give a copy of the signed forms to family members, physicians, lawyers, and pastors.   It is best to have someone with knowledge of your moral values and your desires for treatment who can apply your wishes to the unique and special circumstances of your specific condition and the health care technology and treatment available.
While we accept our obligation to care for the gift of life that God has entrusted to us and never to do anything by act or omission to end our life or the life of another, at the same time we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  We need not fear our death, for it is our birth to Eternal Life.  We can therefore face death with dignity and grace, ever thankful to the God who gives us life.

Sincerely yours,

Most Rev Joseph F. Naumann
Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas

Most Rev. Ronald M. Gilmore
Bishop of Dodge City
Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley
Bishop of Salina

Most Rev. Michael O. Jackels
Bishop of Wichita
is the right thing to do?
The four bishops of the Catholic dioceses of Kansas have answered that question by announcing the publication of “The Catholic Declaration of Life and Natural Death,” a document written to assist Catholics in making end-of-life decisions. Released through the Kansas Catholic Conference, copies of the bishops ’ letter and the “Catholic Declaration” can be downloaded from the conference’s Web site at:
The three-page document — a revision of a similar document issued by Kansas’ Catholic bishops during the 1980s — opens with a prologue proclaiming the signer’s Catholic faith and continues with a six-point declaration.
“The bishops of Kansas felt it was an important time to do this, mainly because of the interest triggered by the tragic ending of Terri Schiavo ’s life,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. “It created a lot of interest in people about end-of-life decisions. Also, Pope John Paul II ’s own death, and the beautiful way in which he taught us not only about life, but dying as well, has also inspired a lot of interest in this.
“We felt it was helpful for Catholics to know what was morally acceptable and unacceptable in terms of treatments that can legitimately be refused and basic care, which we are always obligated to provide. ”
The “Catholic Declaration” is a form of advanced directive, but one couched in the moral language of the church, and with that Christian spiritual component that most secular advanced directives do not contain. Many Catholics may have signed these secular advanced directives not realizing that they weren ’t consistent with Catholic teaching and moral values. If so, they need to revise them, and the publication of this new document     offers a good opportunity to do so.
“The limitation of an advanced directive is that it can’t always foresee all the circumstances or be able to interpret all the new developments that might happen after the advanced directive is implemented, ” said Archbishop Naumann. “We encourage people to have a durable power of attorney for health care decisions who knows their moral principles and wishes and can apply them to whatever situation arises. ”
The “Catholic Declaration” guards against two dangers: overtreatment and abandonment of Catholic moral principles.
“There is that problem of overtreatment, but in some ways the more troubling problem is [when] things [are] done that are against their own moral principles, ” said the archbishop.
Catholics cannot simply expect that hospitals, friends or even family members will take their commitment of faith into consideration when making end-of-life decisions.
“We live in a culture that is not Catholic, and in many ways is becoming increasingly secular, ” said the archbishop. “ And health care providers are oftentimes driven by costs.
“I think we should be able to trust our families, if they’re informed, but even within families we need to designate who is the individual who will represent us in these decisions, because there can be differences within families, as we saw in the Schiavo case. We need to be very clear in our own desire to be faithful to the church ’s teaching in these issues.”
‘The Catholic Declaration’ at a glance

Purpose: This document, written when you’re able to express your will, declares your intention that these instructions be honored as the final expression of your legal right to make decisions.
Full Disclosure of Facts: Because you are a Catholic, you demand that you be fully informed of the facts of your condition so you can spiritually prepare yourself to die.
General Presumption for Life: The declaration should be interpreted in favor of continuing life and decisions should be guided generally by the pro-life teachings of the Catholic Church.
Natural Death Instruc-tions: No means should be used to shorten life, and no life-sustaining means should be taken to artificially prolong the dying process.
Comfort Care: That you be permitted to die naturally with what comfort care and pain relief is necessary, even with the unintended effect of hastening death.
Nutrition and Hydration: Food and fluids are not medical treatments or procedures, but the ordinary means of preserving life. You direct that these be provided unless death is imminent, you are unable to assimilate food or fluids, or that food and fluids might endanger your condition.
Condensed from “The Catholic Declaration of Life and Natural Death”
CNS photo by Owen Sweeney III, Catholic Review
/Photo digitally illustrated by Todd Habiger
End of life issues are becoming more and more complex with technology advancing at such a tremendous rate. To help guide local Catholics, the bishops of Kansas have published “The Catholic Declaration of Life and Natural Death,” a document written to assist Catholics in making end-of-life decisions.