Together, we are called to discover that death is a part of life
and that there can be life in the dying process.
Horizons of Hope: A Toolkit for Catholic Parishes on Palliative Care was developed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. It seeks to:
- Empower and educate parishioners by addressing questions surrounding palliative care, dying, death, suffering, accompaniment, and bereavement in a holistic fashion.
- Present high-quality content that explores how palliative care is understood from a perspective of Catholic moral and pastoral theology, medical expertise and the Compassionate Community model.
- Facilitate meaningful conversations together so that our parishes and families become Compassionate Communities, grounded in the mercy and tenderness of the living Christ.
For more information, and to access the toolkit, please visit https://www.cccb.ca/faith-moral-issues/suffering-and-end-of-life/horizons-of-hope-a-toolkit-for-catholic-parishes-on-palliative-care/
“Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature". (Catechism of the Catholic Church - Paragraph 1930)
Read on for more examples of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says about care of the dying:
The Dignity of the Human Person (CCC 1700):
1700 The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God; it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude. It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment. By his deliberate actions, the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience. Human beings make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole sentient and spiritual lives into means of this growth. With the help of grace they grow in virtue, avoid sin, and if they sin they entrust themselves as did the prodigal son to the mercy of our Father in heaven. In this way they attain to the perfection of charity.
Respect for Human Life (CCC 2259-2262):
2259 In the account of Abel's murder by his brother Cain, Scripture reveals the presence of anger and envy in man, consequences of original sin, from the beginning of human history. Man has become the enemy of his fellow man. God declares the wickedness of this fratricide: "What have you done? the voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. and now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand."
2260 The covenant between God and mankind is interwoven with reminders of God's gift of human life and man's murderous violence: "For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning.... Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image." The Old Testament always considered blood a sacred sign of life. This teaching remains necessary for all time.
2261 Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: "Do not slay the innocent and the righteous." The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. the law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.
2262 In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, "You shall not kill," and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath.
Euthanasia (CCC 2276-2279)
2276 Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.
2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons.It is morally unacceptable.Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.
2278 Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment.Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted.The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.
2279 Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted.The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.
Respect for the Dead (CCC 2299)
2299 The dying should be given attention and care to help them live their last moments in dignity and peace. They will be helped by the prayer of their relatives, who must see to it that the sick receive at the proper time the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God.
Bishop Gary Gordon wrote a pastoral letter for All Souls Day in 2022 that drew on the parable of the Good Samaritan as a spiritual resource for understanding the purpose of being there for each other in Christ. The parable models the Christian response for us - to provide compassionate care at the end of life.
Advance care planning is an important opportunity to carefully review and consider what is important to you – your values, beliefs and wishes – before you experience a health crisis.
These are sometimes emotional conversations, conversations through which you let your family, friends and your doctor know about the health care you want should you be badly hurt or have a serious illness that limits you from making your own decisions. This will help them if they need to make decisions that reflect what you wanted. Advance care planning also provides an opportunity to name a person - an advocate - who can speak for you and who will honour your wishes.
Copies of your instructions should be provided to your family, doctor, and your advocate.
Further information about Advance Care Planning is available at these links:
- Information from Healthlink BC about Care at the End of Life: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/more/aging-well/care-end-life
- Advanced Care Plan Guide and Template (available in multiple languages): https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/family-social-supports/seniors/health-safety/advance-care-planning
- Rediscovering the Art of Dying – by Sister Nuala Kenny
- Dying without Fear – by Dr. Paul Chaloux