Wisconsin bishops warn against POLST end of care document
July 26, 2012, (LifeSiteNews) - In a statement issued yesterday, the Roman Catholic bishops of Wisconsin are warning against the end of life care document called Physician (or Provider) Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). The bishops are concerned that use of this document could lead to acts of euthanasia.
Different versions of the POLST, intended to be signed by designated health care professionals, are gaining popularity in many states. The Wisconsin document, which the bishops’ statement describes as a “preset form that establishes medical orders to withhold or administer treatments”, does not require a patient signature which has led the bishops to warn that the form may “conflict with the individual’s wishes, Wisconsin law and hospital or practitioner ethics.” They also object to the fact that the the form lacks conscience protection for facilities or practitioners.
According to the Medical College of Wisconsin a “patients/surrogate signature is strongly recommended or required, depending on the state or region.”
The form is designed to allow medical practitioners to decide in advance which medical treatment is offered to patients. The options range from allowing or foregoing resuscitation, antibiotics, nutrition and liquids.
The Bishops say, “Despite the possible benefits of these documents, this risk is too grave to be acceptable.”
In a press release on the issue, the bishops said, “POLST forms present options for treatment as if they are morally neutral. In fact, they are not. Because we cannot predict the future, it is difficult to determine in advance whether specific medical treatments, from an ethical perspective, are absolutely necessary or optional.”
The Catholic Church teaches “food and water should always be provided, even if delivered by artificial means.” They directed Catholics to the Now and at the Hour of Our Death publication, which provides information on ethical care and treatment issues.
The bishops reiterated their belief that ““throughout our lives we must always make choices that respect the dignity of every human life from the moment of fertilization to natural death.”
The bishops state that they are not opposed to advanced care planning. However, they advocate the use of a durable power of attorney that reflects Catholic teachings.
Concerning this issue, they said, “We encourage all persons to use a durable power of attorney for health care. For those who are age 18 or older, completing this document allows you to appoint a trusted person to make health care decisions on your behalf if a situation arises in which you cannot make these decisions for yourself. It is important to discuss your wishes and Catholic teaching with the person whom you appoint and to choose someone who will make health care decisions based on these principles.”
The Wisconsin bishops also re-iterated usual Catholic teaching, which Church leaders report is frequently not understood, that “over-zealous treatment” is not ethically or morally necessary.
Referring to passage no. 2278 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states, “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.”