Palliative Care— The Empowering Alternative: A Roman Catholic Perspective -- By: Kathryn A. Holewa

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 24:2 (Fall 2003)
Article: Palliative Care— The Empowering Alternative: A Roman Catholic Perspective
Author: Kathryn A. Holewa


Palliative Care—
The Empowering Alternative:
A Roman Catholic Perspective

Kathryn A. Holewa

Kathryn A. Holewa is a postgraduate student at the Melbourne College of Divinity, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia.

John P. Higgins

John P. Higgins is Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

I. Introduction

Diane Petty, a terminally-ill motor neuron disease sufferer in Britain, wanted her husband to assist her in suicide. The Director of Public Prosecutions declined to grant Petty’s husband immunity from prosecution, and Petty lost three attempts in the British courts to have the decision overturned. Her counsel argued that Petty faced a humiliating death which would be distressing and undignified, and thus should be permitted to proceed with her wishes.

Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff recently submitted a response to the European Court of Human Rights regarding this case.1 He referred to the morally acceptable alternative of palliative care, which would provide Diane Petty and other similar cases with peace and dignity in their subsequent death.

Medical, moral, and ethics literature is replete with debates and discussions about euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.2 Those in favor of the latter suggest that these means fulfill a person’s “right-to-die” and undergo a “death with dignity.” To the contrary, we believe that such acts strip one of dignity and control over their natural death; and further, everyone has the duty to care for the dying. Today more than ever, it is extremely important to protect, at the moment of death, a person’s dignity, against a technological attitude that borders on abuse.

Palliative care is active care.3 Importantly, “no code” does not mean “no care.”4 It embraces all care and treatment of the dying person in the midst of their total pain; namely, their physical, emotional, and spiritual pain.5 Palliative care is the ethically and morally sound means of caring for the dying person: by eliminating their human distress, not eliminating the human in distress. Further, palliative care acknowledges that everyone does have the right to die, which does not mean to procure death by one’s own hands, or that of another. It provides a death with true peace, dignity, and self-determination. In addition, pal...

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