Catholic directive spotlights need to make your end-of-life, care wishes known

By: Gordon Boyd Email
By: Gordon Boyd Email

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Joseph Nassar's faith has driven his decision to draft a Living Will.

"As a Jehovah's Witness, because of the blood issue," he says. "We don't accept blood transfusions."

He believes it will spare his caregivers, and his family, heartache and guesswork.

"It's a legal document," he says. "Whether it's a Catholic hospital or Baptist hospital or any hospital, they should comply with it."

Tennessee's Right to Natural Death Act presumes that every rational adult has a " fundamental and inherent right to die with as much dignity as circumstances permit" , including the right to accept, refuse, withdraw from or otherwise control your treatment.

"I think it's very clear cut," says Knoxville attorney Tom R. Ramsey, III. "So much so that the Tennessee legislature tells us what forms we're required to use; up to and including a sample form."

Tennessee's Act governs the use of Artifically Provided Nourishment and Fluids (feeding and hydration tubes) and certification for donating organs.

"Living Wills can be followed and still be in congruence with church teachings," says Becky Dodson, a Vice President for Mercy Medical Center-St. Mary's of Knoxville.

The most recent directive from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reaffirms church teachings that individuals do not wield absolute power over their lives; rather, they are morally obligated to use "ordinary and proportionate means to preserve life" and that Catholic health organizations are obligated to provide such means.

The Roman Catholic Church views nourishment and hydration as a part of ordinary care, rather than specific medical treatment, according to Paul D. Simoneau, the director of the Justice and Peace office of the Diocese of Knoxville.

But the Bishops' directive also states that caregivers "..may forego extraordinary or disproportionate means if such treatments do not offer a reasonable hope of benefit or would impose an excessive burden upon the patient."

Mercy Medical's hospitals have an Ethics Committee, which meets monthly to review treatment protocols and address any conflicts which may arise among caregivers, patients, and faith directives.

"If we ever were asked as an institution, to do something that is against our own ethical religious directives, we would help the patient find another provider," Dodson says.

Further, Tennessee law requires that medical providers offer patients such options.

Ramsey strongly urges his clients to spell out their medical wishes when they're apportioning their estates.

"It could be a Living WIll, or a power-of-attorney for health care,"
he says. "It's best done now, when you're well, so that these decisions aren't made in the heat of the moment, or by loved ones whose views may conflict with yours, or with one another's."

Ramsey advices his clients to make such documentation available to attending physicians.

Nassar has taken that several steps farther. "Our friends have a copy of it, our nieghbors," he says. "We found it to be a protection for everybody."


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