As human persons, we have the capacity to make informed, un-coerced decisions about the actions we take. This capacity, called autonomy, is a fundamental and essential ethical principle in all human decision making. In terms of health care decisions, autonomy is of the utmost importance.
However, when you become seriously ill or near death, exercising your autonomy to make health care decisions may not be possible to do. And so, others must make them for you.
As Catholics, we believe in the sacredness of every human life. We believe that every medical intervention on the human body not only affects its tissues, organs and their functioning, it also affects the total person, body and soul as a unified whole.
“By virtue of its substantial union with a spiritual soul, the human body cannot be considered as a mere complex of tissues, organs and functions, nor can it be evaluated in the same way as the body of animals; rather it is a constitutive part of the person who manifests and expresses himself through it.” Instruction on Respect for Human Life, Donum Vitae #3
Thus, it is important for you to choose someone to make health care decisions for you that uphold your Catholic vision of the human person.
Advance Health Care Directives, also known as Living Wills and Heath Care Power of Attorney Documents allow you to formally do this.
Click on the following links to read more about Advanced Health Care Directives and to download a Combined Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney provided by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference:
Church Documents on End of Life Issues
- To Live Each Day with Dignity: US Bishops Policy Statement on Assisted Suicide (June 16, 2011)
- Response to Certain Questions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration (August 1, 2007); Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
- Commentary on Nutrition and Hydration (August 1, 2007); Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
- Address to the Participants in the International Congress on Life-Sustaining Treatments and the Vegetative State (March 20, 2004) Blessed John Paul II
- Ethical and Religious Directives of Catholic Health Care Services, fifth edition (2009) United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- Address to the Eighteenth International Congress of the Transplantation Society (August 29, 2000) Blessed John Paul II
- Nutrition and Hydration: Moral Considerations (Revised Edition 1999) Pennsylvania Catholic Conference
- The Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, “The Gospel of Life” (March 25, 1995) Blessed John Paul II
- Declaration on Euthanasia (May 5, 1980) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith