Wisconsin bishops issue statement on life-sustaining treatment

By | July 25, 2012

In a statement issued July 25, the bishops said that the use of a POLST has grave implications for human dignity. The POLST form “presents options for treatments as if they were morally neutral. In fact, they are not. Because we cannot predict the future, it is difficult to determine in advance whether specific medical treatments, from an ethical perspective, are absolutely necessary or optional.”

The bishops noted that a POLST “oversimplifies these decisions and bears the real risk that an indication may be made on it to withhold a treatment that, in particular circumstances, might be an act of euthanasia. Despite the possible benefits of these documents, this risk is too grave to be acceptable.”

The bishops also took issue with the form’s use, citing its possible conflict with an individual’s wishes, Wisconsin law, and hospital or practitioner ethics. They pointed to the form’s lack of patient signature and the absence of a conscience clause to protect facilities or practitioners as deficiencies that jeopardize respect for the dignity of human life.

“Due to the serious and real threats to the dignity of human life that POLST and all similar documents present, we encourage all Catholics to avoid using all such documents, programs, and materials,” said the bishops. “The POLST form should not be regarded as the standard model for designating treatment preferences.”

The bishops encourage Catholics to use a durable power of attorney for health care.

“For those who are age 18 or older, completing this document allows you to appoint a trusted person to make health care decisions on your behalf if a situation arises in which you cannot make these decisions for yourself,” they said. “It is important to discuss your wishes and Catholic teaching with the person whom you appoint and to choose someone who will make health care decisions based on these principles.”

The statement also quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which addresses the issue of life-sustaining measures.

The bishops directed those interested in obtaining more information on care and treatment issues to their earlier publication, “Now and at the Hour of Our Death.” Both the bishops’ statements are available through the Wisconsin Catholic Conference web site, www.wisconsincatholic.org.

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