FROM A READER OF THE ABYSSUM BLOG
Oh, Bishop Gracida, if you only knew what we lay people are facing in the hospitals of the U.S. today, in nursing homes, at home with hospices that are not pro-life, when we are attending our elderly parents at the end of their lives. My mother, 98, died this past February 20 of aspiration pneumonia.
In the hospital, when it became apparent she was no longer able to fight the infection, and it was re-asserting itself and would probably (barring a miracle) take her life, we were visited by a palliative care nurse from the hospital. He was a young, handsome man, obviously very secular, and very comfortable with all the slick ways to speak about what amounts to hastening a person’s death. Being Catholic, and understanding the issues around the stealth euthanasia so prevalent today (either by increasing morphine dosages until the person dies from the morphine, or withdrawing nutrition/hydration, or both) I immediately stated I could accept nothing that would hasten or cause the death of my mother; nutrition and hydration must be continued, morphine to aid breathing only, and only minimal doses. He then began to use many half-truths and untruths to convince me that what they wanted to do was perfectly normal and good.
Bishop, the modern medical workers; doctors and nurses, are very aware of what has become a GIANT loophole in Catholic teaching: that it is okay to administer medicine, even if it causes or hastens death, if you don’t INTEND to cause or hasten death and that it is okay to withdraw nutrition/hydration if it is not being assimilated anymore. They then misrepresent the truth. They will say, the person really isn’t benefiting from the nutrition/hydration, it’s probably making them uncomfortable, even days before the person really would die. They will say, the person needs to receive increasing dosages of morphine to assist their breathing, and to make them comfortable, and of course we don’t INTEND to hasten their death, but it may, but it will probably even let them last longer. An uniformed family may accept this line of talk, and do as recommended. It is horrific to be told these things when you know it is not true.
In my mother’s case, I refused this kind of persuation, and they did several things to try to thwart me, including trying to trick me into signing away the Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA) for her by signing a POLST, which then allows the doctors to determine what’s best, and circumvent having to get permission from the HCPOA before they decide on any new action. I refused to sign it, after looking it up on the internet and discovering how it is actually being used. They also misrepresented some care giving options I legitimately had, such as:
– allowing a pro-life hospice to take over her care in the hospital (the palliative care male nurse said the hospice I wanted did not have admitting privileges; it turns out the hospital would allow any licensed hospice to take over care on a one case basis, meaning for a particular person only. I actually did get the pro-life hospice I wanted to take over her care, right in the hospital she was at.
– that no ambulance would take her to a different hospital or facility. The truth is if you sign a DNR (do not resuscitate) order absolving the ambulance from liability, they will transfer even critical patients.
-I was told “dehydration was not really a terrible way to die.” I was horrified, because I was very familiar with the case of Terry Schiavo, and also have read other horror stories of family members being prevented from even wetting the lips of a dying parent because of these horrific orders to withdraw hydration, and have read how a person really dies from lack of hydration, which is just too unbearable to consider.
-I was told a “morphine drip” was the way to go. It turns out this is the way they can increase the dosage to hasten death, all the while insisting it is not intended I refused it.
I was blessed to have the advice of the pro-life hospice administrator, alerting me the hospital’s palliative care nurse’s untruths, as I sought advice about what they were telling me, even though I had not transferred my mother’s care to her hospice yet. This woman is a saint, and I pray God will bless her every day. She told me, “They know what they are doing (hastening or causing death). They know it, and they do it anyway.”
Thank you for this post, Bishop, and help continue to get the word out about Catholic teaching and our moral responsibilities when someone is dying. In the end, my mother received only a minimal amount of morphine in the hours before her passing, and nutrition and hydration was stopped a only a few hours before her death. She died a peaceful and holy death, having received the Sacrament of the Sick the day before she died, and prayers Commending a Soul to God and an Apostolic Blessing just hours before her passing. She had completed the Nine First Fridays as a young woman, had a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in her kitchen for over 65 years, and wore a Scapular, Miraculous Medal, and Medal of St. Benedict around her neck for 15 years and had them on when she passed away. We prayed many rosaries at her death bed, recited the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Divine Praises, and sang holy songs to her, as well as said other prayers. And we have commissioned a set of Gregorian Masses to be said for her soul by holy monks in a monastery in Oklahoma, which will be completed on April 1, Spy Wednesday, just before Easter.
I have every hope she is now with Our Lord in Heaven. Please say a prayer for the repose of her soul. God bless you.