The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 1, 2000 Issue
Local News

Wisconsin bishops writing pastoral on end of life health care

It will offer pastoral support

Wisconsin's Catholic bishops will prepare a pastoral letter to help Catholics and their family members make end of life health care decisions.

The letter will not be a formal, theological document. Rather it will offer pastoral guidance and support to people with serious illness - and their families, the bishops said.

"Very few of us will die without medical intervention and the accompanying emotional decisions regarding our medical comfort and spiritual care," said John Huebscher, executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference. "The bishops hope to offer moral support that helps Catholics prepare for and cope with end of life decisions."

A committee of consultors will be named to assist in the project.

Huebscher said the consultors will include representatives of the diocesan health care advisors, family ministers, bereavement counselors, respect life coordinators, Catholic chaplains and a representative of the Catholic Health Association of Wisconsin (CHA-W).

Dramatic advances in medical technology have greatly enhanced the tools physicians can use in their life saving work. However, in focusing on saving and preserving life, less attention has been given to the responsibility to provide for a dignified, meaningful death.

Demographic changes, coupled with the advances in health care, have brought new focus nationally to the issue of care for the dying.

The Catholic Health Association of Wisconsin is pursuing a broad-based approach to educating health care providers and the public about comfort care - also called "palliative" care - and helping various community resources come together to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the support services available to the dying and their loved ones.

The letter will address issues such as: the treatment of dying patients, providing nutrition and fluids, advance directives and powers of attorney for health care, and the public policy considerations surrounding these issues.

As Bp. William Bullock of Madison said in his own pastoral on death and dying: "Learning to live and learning to die are so intimately connected that we can never fully do one without the other. We learn to die by the way we live and we learn to live by the reality that death comes to everyone."

Huebscher said there was no firm timetable for the completing the statement but previous statements by the conference have taken a year or more to prepare.

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