We Are the Lord’s: A Catholic Guide to Difficult End-of-Life Questions is a video series with accompanying book, that serves as a succinct, quick-reference guide to difficult end-of-life questions, framed by divine wisdom and Catholic Church teaching. Its easy-to-read chapters and question-and-answer format can be a welcomed help to any person or family who are searching for answers during a difficult and traumatic time.
A Catholic Guide To Difficult End-Of-Life Questions
- What is meant by the term “informed consent,” and why is it important?
Father Kirby describes and explains the importance of the term “informed consent.”
a) Am I prepared to allow my loved one to make their own medical decisions?
b) How will I respond if my loved one makes a decision I disagree with?
*Today I will pray for the virtue of prudence in all of my decision making, especially medical
decisions, either for myself, or for my loved one.
Heavenly Father, you alone are the giver of life. You alone know what’s best for your children. You alone know what lies within the heart of my loved one. Grant me the grace to humbly accept the decisions made between the doctors and my loved one, whether I agree or not. Help me to ask the right questions and to accept difficult answers.
- What is a medical proxy? How is this person chosen?
Father Kirby explains what a medical proxy is and advises on how to choose one.
a) Can I in good conscience be a medical proxy for a loved one who holds worldly views on
important issues such as nutrition and hydration?
b) Can I allow a loved one to choose a medical proxy whose values differ from mine
without attempting to change their mind?
*Today I will begin to think and pray about whom I will choose for my medical proxy.
Lord, in this world of ever-changing values, help me to discern important medical care concerns according to your will. Help me to exercise prudence in choosing a medical proxy as well as whether to accept the role of medical proxy. Give me the courage to speak out to my loved ones if and when necessary, in defense of Catholic values.
- If I’m a medical proxy, am I bound to fulfill any request made by my loved one?
Description: Father Kirby describes the responsibilities of a medical proxy.
a) Am I prepared to have the detailed conversation necessary to make certain that my medical
proxy is in agreement with my wishes, or vice versa if I am the proxy?
b) Am I willing to decline being a medical proxy if there are major differences between my and
my loved one’s views?
*Today I will find out the paperwork I need for a medical proxy, and begin to discern in prayer
who I will ask
Lord, there are many hard questions to answer and decisions to be made. Help me as I seek to discern your will in knowing what to do through every stage of this journey.
- What are advance directives? Are these something I should have?
Father Kirby explains advance directives, as well as whether this is something we need to have.
a) As I think about advance directives, whether as a medical proxy or my own, am I
concerned more about “efficiency,” such as, “rather than be a financial burden, I will
refuse all treatments without considering anyone or anything else?”
b) Will I take into consideration my faith, family and loved ones as I anticipate or encounter
serious medical circumstances?
*Today, I will begin to write out my own advance directives.
Come, Holy Spirit! Fill me with your grace and wisdom as I seek to align my will to that of the Father in planning for the future time when I begin the last part of my own journey Home.
- What can (or should) I do if my loved one refuses to eat?
Father Kirby describes measures that can and should be taken when a loved one won’t eat.
a) What will my response be if my loved one refuses to eat during a serious or terminal illness?
b) If I am a medical proxy, how will I respond to medical personnel who recommend discontinuing food and hydration for my loved one?
Action: I will begin to educate myself on the Catholic perspectives of serious end of life issues.
Father, this end of life journey is so difficult! I am torn between watching my loved one suffer and this world that wants to make it so easy to “end his suffering.” Help me to find the right things to do to ease suffering without taking morality into my own hands.
- Medical staff is telling me that artificial nutrition and hydration are extraordinary care. Is this correct?
In and of themselves, artificial nutrition and hydration are not extraordinary care. Father Kirby explains this.
a) Do I fully understand my rights, either as a medical proxy, or as a patient to require artificial nutrition and hydration (when appropriate), even when pressured by medical personnel to consider withholding it?
b) Will I have the courage to stand up for my or my loved one’s right to have the basic human care of nutrition and hydration, even if it has to be artificially administered?
Today I will begin the task of learning more about when it is morally acceptable to withhold artificial nutrition and hydration
Father, you lovingly care for all you have created. For all creatures and all growing things you provide food and life-giving water. Give me true understanding that as you so graciously provide for these basic needs in nature, so much the greater is our responsibility to guard these basic rights for our vulnerable brothers and sisters created in your own image.
- Since they are a part of basic human care, when is it possible to suspend nutrition and hydration?
Father Kirby describes specifically when it is morally acceptable to suspend nutrition and hydration.
a) Will I be prepared to accept the right time to suspend nutrition and hydration for my loved
b) Do I understand why it could be euthanasia to suspend nutrition and hydration before the
*Today, along with educating myself, I will begin to pray for the courage and wisdom to know
what to do when the time comes
Lord Jesus, help me as I seek to discern the Father’s will in knowing what to do through every stage of this journey. Help me to always discern medical situations by looking through your eyes and loving with your heart.
- What should I do if medical personnel put pressure on me to accept treatment or care that’s not morally acceptable or withhold necessary treatment?
Father Kirby explains what to do when medical personnel applies pressure to withhold necessary treatments, or accept treatments not morally acceptable.
a) Do I treat medical professionals with respect and a willingness to firmly but gently explain my beliefs?
b) Am I willing to stand up for my beliefs, and call for an advocate, even when medical staff directly opposes my decisions?
Today I will educate myself on what a professional advocate can do, when I should call for one, and how to do so.
Lord, the end of life journey can be so confusing, especially when medical professionals tell me one thing and my faith tells me another! Please give me your grace, so that with clarity of vision and strength of purpose, I will have the courage to face any opposition.
- Is a breathing tube extraordinary care?
Father Kirby outlines the necessity of examining the entirety of the situation before it can be determined if a breathing tube would be considered extraordinary care.
a) If my doctor said that a breathing tube is extraordinary care for my loved one, will I have the courage to question it?
b) If my loved one doesn’t want a breathing tube, will I simply accept it, or try to discuss with him (if possible) reasons why he might reconsider?
Today, I will ask my parish priest for information on what the Church teaches regarding extraordinary vs ordinary care
Father, in discerning extraordinary vs ordinary care, give me your wisdom to discern the greater good, depending on my own vocation and responsibilities, or those of my loved one. Grant the grace of humble submission to your holy will.
- How is a breathing tube morally different from a feeding tube?
Father Kirby describes the difference in moral terms between a feeding tube and a breathing tube.
a) Am I prepared to answer if someone tells me that the breathing and feeding tubes are the same thing in terms of my own or my loved one’s care?
b) Am I aware of my vocational responsibilities in considering my own desires, should the need for a breathing tube arise?
Today, I will review my advance directives, and make sure of the accuracy of its terms.
Lord, give the grace of your divine mercy as we navigate these treacherous waters of moral discernment. Help us to see through the murkiness of the world’s reasoning to the clarity of your truth in every decision we must make. Let every decision be made in true charity, always considering the profound dignity of the person you created in your image.
- It seems there are so many medical measures to stay alive. How do I know “when to say when”?
Father Kirby examines the question of “when is it ok to die?”
a) Do I pray regularly for the grace of a happy death?
b) Will I trust God enough to know when to “let go?”
Action: I will begin today to embrace life more fully and to pray for a happy death.
Father, I am your child. I have come from you, and to you I will return. Today I pray for your grace, so that when the time comes, I will truly know with peace that I can safely “let go.”
- What is a DNR?
Father Kirby describes the term DNR
a) Am I aware of any loved ones in my care having a DNR?
b) Do I know when I might need a DNR for myself?
Action: Today I will get the necessary paperwork and become familiar with the DNR
Father God, you are the giver of all life. As we grow in knowledge, help us to grow also in wisdom. Help us to make the many difficult decisions that come with the end of life, all according to your will.
- How much pain medication can be given?
Father Kirby explains the need to balance medication with pain, and with the wish of the patient.
a) Am I aware of the kinds of pain medicine used in serious or terminal illness?
b) Should I force my loved one who is refusing pain medicine but seems to be suffering?
*Today, I will begin to learn about different pain medicines and their potential benefits vs harm
Lord Jesus, you suffered horribly for me, yet, I fear the suffering of pain! Help me to find grace in my suffering, knowing that there is great power in prayer offered through suffering united to your cross. Help me to find the right balance of pain medicine so I can be present to my loved ones. Grant me your peace in every decision I must make.
- What if pain medication ends up taking a person’s life? Is that euthanasia?
Father Kirby explains the differences of intent in cases where pain medication takes a persons life, as to whether it is euthanasia or not.
a) Am I prepared to give my loved one as much pain medication as he needs?
b) Am I fully aware of the moral truth that must be considered in giving pain medication?
*Today, I will make an appointment to speak with my parish priest about end of life decisions
based upon moral truth
Lord, purify my heart so that I will always err toward your will rather than the morality offered by this world. Help me to resist the temptation to worldly values that whisper it’s ok to “put him out of his misery.” Help me to know the immense value of each and every human person, whether healthy or sick, strong or weak, and always make my decisions accordingly.
- If my loved one is in a coma or a PVS (persistent vegetative state), am I able to suspend nutrition and hydration?
Description: Father Kirby describes the term PVS, and our moral responsibilities in dealing with coma and PVS.
a) Have I included my desire for nutrition and hydration in my advance directives?
b) Am I aware that coma and PVS are not end of life issues?
*Today I will look for Catholic educational materials and resources regarding PVS and coma.
Lord Jesus, I pray that PVS is something I will never have to face, either for myself or my loved one. Yet, if this is something that comes my way, please give me the grace and wisdom to know what to do. Give to me the courage to stand with Mother Church in every decision I must make.
- How do I handle the guilt of making a decision that ended a person’s life?
Father Kirby gives encouraging advice on handling guilt over a decision that ended a person’s life.
a) Have I fully discussed the advance directives of my loved one?
b) Have I consulted with my parish priest about any end of life questions I need to have clarified?
Today I will make sure my own advance directives are completed, and I will ask my loved ones to consider finishing theirs.
Lord Jesus, help me to understand that at the end of life, it is ultimately the will of the Father, above and beyond any decisions we make in the moment, that calls a soul home. May your peace beyond understanding fill our hearts and minds, dispelling any doubt or guilt over end of life decisions.
Photo by Jixiao Huang on Unsplash
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