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End of Life Care Within A Catholic Perspective

End of Life Special Section

By GLORIA A BROOKS, SR. MARY COLLEEN SCHWARZ
04/20/2018 | Comments

Hospice care is about living each day to the fullest. Every person deserves individualized and compassionate care that is rooted in their faith traditions, especially during the last stages of life. 

Every day can be challenging when someone you love is coping with a life-limiting illness. Many people turn to their faith for guidance at these difficult times. From the Catholic perspective, there has been much discussion about how hospice care aligns with principle teachings of the Church. Some of these concerns are rooted in myths about hospice care and what it provides to a patient and their family members. 

Many families have never experienced caring for a loved one with a serious diagnosis. Care-giving often falls to the “Sandwich Generation.” An adult child, usually a daughter, is juggling responsibilities and commitments to her spouse and children, as well as responsibilities to her career path. At the same time, she is devoted to managing the health care needs and decisions for aging parents. Making sure those who are in this role have the information needed before there is a crisis is imperative for being confident in choosing the right care for an ailing parent.

Hospice care holistically addresses physical, emotional and spiritual needs while ensuring the patient guides their care choices. Hospice care as defined in the Medicare Hospice Benefit is the only health care service that requires the inclusion of spirituality and faith as a part of continuum of care offered to patients and family members during their last six months of life. 

Hospice care neither hastens nor postpones death.  Depending on their disease prognosis, when patients start to receive the right care at the right time, their decline may slow down. With a reprieve from treatments that are no longer effective in stopping a disease from its natural course, patients can experience an improvement in their quality of life. This allows for the person to embrace each day on the end of life journey. With pain and symptoms managed to their level of satisfaction, they are able to spend precious months, weeks and days with their loved ones celebrating a life well lived.

Hospice care does not with-hold food and water, or overmedicate patients to end their life. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published a document that explains the moral principles rooted in the Catholic faith for the treatment of the dying. “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” explains that “… there is a principle obligation to provide patients with food and water…because it is morally wrong to starve the patient to death.” However, the directive goes on to say that medically assisted nutrition and hydrations are “morally optional” when a person’s disease prognosis has reached the point that either they cannot prolong life, or when they can adversely impact the patient’s physical comfort. Continuing with food or hydration can cause other health complications, such as aspiration or choking.  As our body naturally declines in its final stages, a patient no longer needs food or hydration to keep the body functioning. The body isn’t using the energy provided by these sources, and continuing sustenance may in fact place added stressors to other organs. It is within this parameter that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sought to allay any spiritual concerns about this issue.

The passage of the Medical Aid in Dying Act in Colorado in 2016 also caused confusion about that act in comparison to hospice care. Medical Aid in Dying is not hospice care.  Hospice does not over-medicate patients, for ex-ample with excessive use of morphine, to hasten death. Patients decide what level of pain they can experience while living each day to the fullest. That is different for each patient based on physical symptoms of their disease and life experiences.  Hospice is a support for every day until the patient’s body naturally no longer functions. As an organization, we do not take a position on MAID; instead, we are committed to educating the community, patients and families about how hospice can alleviate physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. For additional information, you can read the entire directives document at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/health-care/upload/Ethical-Religious-Directives-Catholic-Health-Care-Services-fifth-edition-2009.pdf

We understand the uncertainty, and also the hope, that accompanies these difficult times. Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care is the only nonprofit, community-based hospice and palliative care provider in El Paso County. Every year, we help more than 2,300 patients and 5,000 families navigate the challenges of a life-limiting illness with com-fort, dignity and quality of life. We can help you and your family during your end of life journey. Our interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains, grief counselors, and volunteers provide support by offering individuated care plans. Hospice services are covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. If you are a patient, family member or caregiver, and need assistance, call 719-633-3400. Our Access Center is staffed 24/7 with Registered Nurses who are available to help answer your questions.

For more information, contact:

Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care

2550 Tenderfoot Hill Street

Colorado Springs, CO 80906

719-633-3400

PikesPeakHospice.org

Gloria A. Brooks, MPA, FACHE, is President of Pikes Peak Hospice &  Palliative Care and the President and CEO of Pikes Peak Hospice since June 2017. She is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.  

Sister Mary Colleen Schwarz, OSB, serves on the board of directors of Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care. She resides at Benet Hill Monastery in Colorado Springs.


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