The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services was written to serve as a foundation for moral teachings for health care institutions, its medical teams, staffs and patients. The main two reasons for writing this document were to reiterate the ethical standards of health care from the perspective of the Catholic Church and its teachings on human dignity and to help provide authoritative guidance on various moral issues faced by Catholic health care facilities. This is significant because the health care in United States and the world has changed because of the introduction of new technology and advancements in medicine and medical procedures.
The Church want to make sure that the quality of life is upheld and not discriminated based on these new developments in technology. The Church also does not want to compromise on the principles of Natural Law that it follows and upholds and the church acknowledges that it cannot provide an answer to all health care dilemmas that may arise but it wants to help protect human dignity and affirms God’s love for humanity and the commitment to health care through the Church. The bishops realize that new technology has risen to challenge and sometimes even complicate matters – especially when it prolongs life for many people so they wanted to give an authoritative stance on the issues and moral principles on how to proceed with certain matters. Thus they were prompted to write the directives to answer this rising challenges, changes in health care and the vacuum of guiding principles in this medical school of thought. In Part Four of the document, we begin to address the issues in care for the beginning of life. The bishops reaffirm the sanctity of human life from its very beginning, from the money of conception, until death.
The Church also reaffirms the marriage covenant and makes it clear that the marriage act is between a husband and a wife as they express their love for each other and with God’s blessings, make a new life on this planet. The Church also condemns the use of contraceptives saying that the original purpose of sex was for procreation and if that purpose is not fulfilled because of some action we take, then that action is wrong. The document goes on to list that abortion is never permitted in the church and sterilization of men and women are not permitted in the church either. From the statement on the sanctity of human life from birth until death and the refusal to allow abortion within the Church, many patients and pro-choice advocates (within and outside the Church) are plagued by this statement. They argue how can life begin at conception and even many pro-life people disagree on the exact moment life begins. There is also no scientific data to prove when life beings and this just adds to the dilemma for the patients. Secular health care institutions try to be respectful of both arguments but eventually will succumb to the decision of the patient. However, even within the secular realm, there is a controversy as to what extend we protect life and when is it deemed a crime to kill babies. The document also defines marriage – saying it an act of love between a man and a women.
Many gay rights activists and Catholics who remain “liberal” on the issue are faced with the dilemma on how to deal with gay people and their movements. Church does not recognize gay couples having children in an “act of love” and this may raise more controversy, especially with secular institutions. Secular institutions tend to follow state and federal laws and so far, many states do not recognize gay marriages – but that trend is slowly changing. The stance of the church against contraceptives is also controversial because many couples want to use such methods to make sure they do not have too many children and they have a certain level of family planning. The church condemns this while secular authorities and institutions encourage couples to use contraceptives to help stop accidental pregnancies and overpopulation.
The second issue can be found in part five about the issues in caring for the dying patients. The church teaches us to be respectful, loving and supportive of the patients when facing the reality of death. Life is a gift from God and as such, we need respect it and the patient should be given the chance to die with dignity. The church forbids euthanasia and condemns any attempt to hasten death (this may be an action or inaction). The church also states that each person has a moral obligation to preserve his or her life as they are not owners of their own life. However, a person does not have to go to extraordinary lengths to preserve his or her own life. The church also states that baby tissues after abortion should not be used for research or some medical purposes. There are people who believe that it is their life, so they have the right to do what they want to do with it, including the right to die. The Church clearly states that it is wrong because life is a gift from God so by killing yourself, you are rejecting that gift and love from God. Also since you are not the owner of your life, you do not have the right to kill yourself.
Euthanasia is thus forbidden in the church even though there are many arguments for the procedure. The church also argues that all patients must go to ordinary lengths to preserve their life, even if it means they want to die. Most secular institutions are complicated on the issue and their attitudes are complex. Many see the positives in allowing patients to do this but state and federal laws forbid Euthanasia (Bush’s executive order) and PAS. Oregon is one of the few exceptions with a lot of restrictions to prevent abuse, accident or irrational choices by patients. However, the secular community deeply respects the church’s stance on the end of life situations. Overall, I think the bishops were able to address much of the issues generally and they touch upon all of the “hot button” issues in our modern society.
Read the Church’s Official Position, the Full Document