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  • Northern Virginia Trusts & Estates

What Is a Catholic Living Will?

Updated: May 22

Before we get started, let’s clear up some confusion about the term “Catholic living will”.  There is no such document as a Catholic living will, but you can craft your will in a manner that is consistent with the teachings of the Church in order to ensure that your end of life wishes are carried out according to your faith.

Some of the considerations for creating a living will or advance medical directive for members of the Catholic Church are not all that different from the typical considerations for living wills, except that these take into account the foundations of Catholic teachings, which encourages all ordinary means should be used as a way to preserve an individual’s life. This includes providing water, food, exercise and effective medical care. However, for hundreds of years Catholic theologians have stated that no human is morally obligated to continually undergo every available medical surgery or treatment as a way to save his or her life.

Many of these treatments can be significantly burdensome or well beyond an individual’s economic ability. Some treatments, while temporarily effective, simply prolong the pain and suffering experienced by the dying individual. According to Catholic theology, no one is morally obligated to take extraordinary means just to survive a lingering death.

Through the many advancements of modern day medicine, making the decision to accept or forgo many forms of medical treatment seems to cloud the waters. New treatments have the ability to keep people alive that would have passed away from the same condition, had they experienced it in the past. However, many of these treatments simply keep the individual in a comatose state or semi-comatose state for months or years at a time. As a result, it is important to create a Catholic living will, or directive, to handle these confusing scenarios.

Making Use of an Advance Medical Directive

Many of the legal implications, moral questions and pain and suffering can make decisions about dying extremely challenging. Through reflection and prayer, Catholics can find the answers and discuss personal feelings and beliefs to physicians and family members. By placing those decisions in an advance directive, all of their loved ones and doctors will know exactly what to do.

A Catholic living will is the statement that is prepared well in advance of an individual’s need to make decisions concerning their demise. A living will is prepared when the individual is competent. It is used as a tool to direct physicians and family members about the exact type of treatment the Catholic individual chooses (or does not choose) in the event that they become incompetent and/or terminally ill. The Catholic living will is recognized by the state as a legal document giving power to others through the directive.

Providing Coherent Instructions

Because it is impossible for anyone to predict the future, a Catholic’s advance medical directive (living will) can be set firmly in place for potential future illness or necessary/optional medical procedure. It creates a coherent directive that was designed by the Catholic individual after reflection in their ability to understand what types of medical treatments they would desire, or not desire.

The level of foresight can sometimes be challenging. The directive may indicate that if the individual does not have the ability to understand or speak and the prognosis is that he or she will never get better, they might choose to design their advanced directive to accept treatment or deny it. If they are on life support treatment that is only delaying the moment of their passing, they might select to continue life-support treatment or deny it. The directive could also indicate that if life-support treatment has already begun, then they want it to continue.

While it is quite simple to put together an advance medical directive (living will) for Catholic individuals, handling situations involving most end-of-life decisions can be more complicated. It often requires the skills of a competent attorney that can craft an effective legal document that is more than just a one-size-fits-all solution.

Preparing an effective legal document is critical and helpful to family members and doctors that want to treat their loved one the way the individual desires. Only through discussion and proper preparation, can an effective advanced directive be created.

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