Ministering From the Sick Room

Being sick can be a wonderful experience.  Did you know that you can learn about life when you’re ill?  A few days ago I was rushed to the hospital by ambulance.  In fact, I’m writing this blog entry from a hospital bed.  Not to bore you with the medical details, allow me to tell you about something else that affects us every day and that the Brothers of Life deal with in real time.

When I was admitted to the hospital the nurse gave me a form to sign.  I asked what it was and she explained that it was a healthcare surrogate assignment form and a living will.    In Florida most hospitals use the form that has been prepared by some state agency.  I can’t tell you which one.  But that’s not so important.  What was striking to me was that the form specifies that in the event that the patient becomes unresponsive the surrogate may make any decisions as to the patient’s care.  What the form does not tell people is that in the State of Florida feeding and hydration are considered extraordinary measures.  The person who signs this form does not know that he is authorizing someone to take away their food and water if the surrogate believes that these have been extraordinary.

That sounds fine on the surface, but there is a moral problem here.  In fact, there are several moral problems and these are some of the things that the Brothers of Life help families understand when they are dealing with end of life decisions on behalf of a loved one.  Sometimes, these are not end of live decisions, because the patient is not dying, but is seriously ill.  The first moral problem here is that food, water, oxygen, medication, CPR, hygiene and companionship are not extraordinary measures.  An extraordinary measure is anything that a person does not normally need to live.  In addition, an extraordinary measure is any procedure that will only cause more harm than good or that medical experience tells us will not prolong a person’s life more than a few minutes or hours.  However, when a person’s life can be prolonged indefinitely, it is very ordinary to seek to do so.  It is very ordinary for people to remain alive until God calls them home.  Granted, we are all going to die.  But we do not need to be helped along by taking away those things that are part of normal care for anyone, sick or not.

I felt very badly for the nurse who gave me the form.  She is a Catholic.  I took advantage of the opportunity to ask her if she understood the implication of the form the way that it is written.  She did not.  I proceeded to explain the law in the State of Florida and what moral law says you can and cannot do when someone is terminally ill.  She asked me what she should do.  As a Catholic, she did not want to violate the moral law, but the hospital told her that she must offer everyone the opportunity to sign the form.  I gave her a very simple plan.  Provide the form as directed by the hospital.  Explain to patients that the surrogate would have the right to make choices that are legal but immoral and ask the patient if he or she wants to know more about this.  If the patient does, either explain it yourself or have a Brother of Life come and speak with the family.  The latter is an option at this hospital because we live less than one mile from the hospital.  But many people do not live near a community of Brothers.  In that case, they should have a religious, deacon or priest come and explain to them what the options are and how to protect themselves.  They can even speak with the surrogate to help him/her understand his/her moral duties and moral limits.

When the nurse and I finished speaking, she thanked me.  I was in pretty lousy shape the two days.  By day three I was more alert.  I saw the nurse again and asked her if he she thought about what I had taught her.  She said that she had shared it with other Catholic nurses on the staff.  They did not know what the limits were.  They simply assumed that if it was legal it was OK.  We spoke a little more.  Before I knew it, I had seven more Catholic nurses stop by my room to ask me for clarification on Healthcare Surrogacy and Living Wills.  It was a wonderful opportunity to preach and teach the Gospel of Life to people in the healthcare field.

Published in: on June 29, 2010 at 5:20 AM  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. get well soon Bro. Jay. 🙂

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