“Ask a Priest: Is Hospice the Moral Route to Take?”

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Q: My aunt had a bone marrow type cancer, myelofibrosis. Last month I was advised by her doctor and nurses that the transfusions she was getting weren’t working any longer, and that I should think about putting her on hospice. She had other issues such as congestive heart failure and pulmonary disease complications. I called her hematologist, who also suggested it was the best thing to do. I called my parish priest and asked him also; he told me it was a natural death. I still feel so guilty, afraid I will go to hell because I made this decision for her. Please help me. Will God condemn me for this decision? -B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: My heart goes out to you. Your concern for your aunt is admirable.

From what you describe, you haven’t done anything wrong. There is nothing much else you can do. To do more might actually be wrong; it is what is known as therapeutic obstinacy. To give more treatment would interfere with the natural course of death and prolong your aunt’s process of suffering and dying.

The Catechism in No. 2278 makes this point: “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.”

At this point, the best you could do is pray for your aunt and try to accompany her as much as possible. You are doing a great work of charity. I will remember you and your aunt at Mass.

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