End of Life Issues

In May 2001, the Illinois Bishops issued a pastoral letter called Facing the End of Life. In it, the Bishops asked all Catholics and people of good will to reexamine our perceptions of death and dying from the perspective of our faith, not of that of our society. Considering our lives in light of the truth that we are made to spend eternal life with God should lead us to prepare for our death by living a good life, seeking the sacraments as we face illness, and turning to the Lord for support and meaning in the struggles of a life-threatening illness.

Specifically, the pastoral letter reiterates:

  • Assisted suicide and euthanasia are clearly rejected, but also rejected is the view that every possible means to preserve life must be used when the individual is clearly dying.
  • We Americans do not like to hear about limits or any sort of dependency. The death of the body is not always a defeat; what is most difficult for many to face is that our lives are, ultimately, not in our control.
  • Health care practitioners have a personal responsibility to improve pain and symptom control and must refrain from aggressive and inappropriate life-sustaining therapy that will only prolong the dying process. Catholic health care will not participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia; neither will it condone substandard pain management nor a refusal to accept natural death as part of life.
  • Even improved pain and symptom control cannot relieve all the grief and emotional anguish that come when we and those we love face the end of life.
  • To say that pain has value in that we can recognize our human struggles are shared by Christ is not to say that we preach the glorification of pain. Those who say otherwise are spreading nonsense and perverted caricatures of Catholics.
  • Speak with your physician and make prudent advance directives that will help guide your care in case you become too ill to participate in decision-making.

The Bishops of Illinois invite all people of good will to work together to care for the dying with the dignity and respect they deserve.