“Ask a Priest: How Much More Do I Need to Do for My Ailing Husband?”

Q: How does one know to say, “It’s enough”? My husband got sick in Europe and received a kidney transplant and now is having a liver transplant. I’ve sent the money to Europe — his brother is looking after everything as I can’t fly. My husband is a truly a good man but he’s suffering. Am I doing wrong in our heavenly Father eyes if I say no more surgery after this one and no more money? I can’t take anymore of him suffering. This is so hard. Please, what does our heavenly Father tell us what to do in situations like this? – A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I am sorry to hear about your husband’s health. It must be painful to know that the man you love is suffering so intensely. This must be a very heavy burden for you, indeed.

The short answer is that the Church does not require us to pursue disproportionate medical care just to keep a person alive. Patients do, however, have a right to basic, proportionate care, such as hydration and feeding.

The Catechism in No. 2278 says:

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. [end quoted material]

The longer answer is: The question of whether more surgeries should be pursued is something that you and the family and your husband (if possible) need to decide, perhaps in consultation with doctors and a priest or reputable medical ethicist on the scene. This would allow the decision to be based on more than just a feeling of not being able to “take anymore of him suffering.”

What is extraordinary care in any given case depends on a lot of factors, such as a patient’s age, prospect of recovery and the costs? For more reading, see the National Catholic Bioethics Center posting at https://www.ncbcenter.org/publications/end-life-guide/.

Above all, this is a moment to intensify your prayers for your husband. Even if you can’t travel to accompany him, you can be close to him spiritually. You can ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen your husband. You certainly could ask that he receive the anointing of the sick if he hasn’t received it yet.

I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers.

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