Catholic Considerations for our
We know earthly death is not the end, but rather the door through which we must pass to gain eternal
life. Because of our belief and hope in the Resurrection, we can face death not with fear, but with preparation. Although
certainly not comprehensive, the following considerations are provided as starting points for understanding and preparing
for this transition, whether it is imminent or not.
and at the Hour of our Death: We prepare for eternal life by choosing to love and follow God in our daily lives
and decisions. For example, through prayer and regular reception of the sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist,
we obtain the grace to live in ever-deeper communion with God and with one another in lives of faith, charity, and justice.
We ask for Our Blessed Mother's help now, and we entrust ourselves to her further as we "surrender 'the hour of
our death' wholly to her care" [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2677].
Forming Our Consciences: Our journey with Christ naturally includes
equipping our consciences to make morally good judgments and acting accordingly. Learning about the dignity of human
life and the indispensable respect for it, as well as applicable principles for medical care, is particularly important in
preparing for our own eventual passing. Some bishops offer guidelines applying moral principles to local legal options.
Many state conferences of Catholic Bishops have publsihed materials which may help you with decisions about advance
directives. To find these and other resources, a directory is available at www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/diocesan-pro-life-offices.cfm.
A Note on General Principles: No summary can substitute
for thorough catechesis, but some general principles are clear. We are entrusted by God with the gift of life, and in
response, we care for our lives and health in obedience and gratitude to our Creator. This obliges us to make use of
appropriate, effective medical care. However, even effective treatments may at times impose such a great burden that
we in good conscience, may forego or discontinue them. This applies even to life-sustaining treatments. Of course, nothing
should be done or deliberately omitted to hasten death.
Church affirms the inviolable dignity of every human person, regardless of the duration or extent of the person's incapacity
or dependency. Nothing diminishes the unchangeable dignity and sanctity of a person's life, or the obligation to protect
and care for it. In principle, assisted feeding and hydration should be provided unless it cannot sustain life or is
unduly burdensome to the patient, or death is imminent whether it is provided or not. Moreover, no one should choose
suicide or counsel or assist another to take his or her own life.
Discerning Treatment Options: Judging the effect and burden of treatments can be difficult,
especially as death draws near. To understand health facts and treatment options, we need professional medical advice.
To understand Catholic moral teaching, we need to consult Church teaching and those who can faithfully explain it.
Speaking with Loved Ones: After informing our consciences,
we need to inform our families. If we are unable to make decisions, they most often have legal authority to make surrogate
decisioins on our behalf. Or we may designate a health care agent by a durable power of attorney.
Though it is often helpful to also have a written, signed documentation, no living will "check
box" can ever replace clear conversations about our faith-guided principles. The best option is to choose an agent who
will make medical decisioins on our behalf in accord with our Catholic faith and Church teaching.
We should also inform family of our pastoral care preferences, and make clear that after death
we desire prayer, funeral rites, and Christian burial.
Before and After Death: Those who are sick should not be alone, as multiple popes have reminded us in messages
for the annual World Day of the Sick. Patients who have serious or life-threatening illnesses, as well as their families,
can be provided with physical, psychological, and spiritual care through team-based palliative care. Hospice care can
provide similar integrated care for those nearing death and for their families.
Pastoral care is integral to both palliative and hospice care, and includes making available the Eucharist,
Confession, and Anointing of the Sick. It also includes supportive prayer and support for decision makers. It
may be helpful to familiarize ourselves with local services available in preparation for our own passing or that of loved
Even after death, accompaniment continues. Our
prayers can help those who have died, so it is a special work of mercy to pray for them.
Hope in the Resurrection: Those who die in God's grace and friendship
live forever with Christ. Heaven is not an abstract idea, but a true and lasting relationship with God that is beyond
all earthly description and understanding. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and everlasting life by preparing
now, in hope, for our passage from this life into eternal life.
We need not fear. Christ is with us.