COLUMBIA—An advance directive that is not clearly written can mean the difference between life and death for someone who is seriously ill or disabled. Catholics concerned with pro-life issues need to be constantly vigilant and ready to advocate for their loved ones.
That was the message Columbia attorney James Corbett and pro-life activist Wayne Cockfield gave to about 60 people at St. Joseph Church in Columbia on Sept. 1 about living wills and why, they say, anyone concerned about life issues should not have one drawn up. It’s an issue both men say needs to be addressed more often, especially with the ongoing debate over new health care legislation.
In an interview with The Miscellany, Corbett said that living wills can be misinterpreted these days because the general cultural attitude toward life has changed since the living will concept was first developed.
At that time, Corbett said, it was often assumed that doctors would do everything possible to keep people alive, and living wills were intended to state what treatment a person did or did not want.
Now, Corbett said, it can no longer be assumed that doctors will do everything to keep people alive.
“How did we get here? Life is cheaper now than even 15 years ago,” Corbett said. “People are desensitized to the value of life, and the attitude among many people is to let people die if they are seriously ill or can’t feed or take care of themselves. This is especially of concern to the elderly and disabled.”
Corbett, a member of St. Joseph, said it’s necessary for Catholics to educate themselves about the language in different kinds of advance directives.
“People need an advanced directive that presumes for life,” Cockfield said. “… the culture has changed, and they need all the protection they can get.”
Pro-life advocates have problems with the S.C. living will for many reasons, but especially because it seems to assign the decision about how close a person is to death to an attending physician.
Many people assume this means their family physician or a doctor who has treated them before, Corbett said, but legally this means any doctor, anywhere, assigned to a patient’s case.
He said people also misinterpret the language of the living will and mistakenly indicate they don’t want nutrition and hydration, meaning food and water would not be provided if they were incapacitated. Catholic teaching states that food and water are necessities of life, not medical treatment, and that they must be provided to the terminally ill or permanently unconscious person.
The men encourage people to fill out and sign a Will to Live, a pro-life alternative to the living will that allows people to specify what treatment they do and do not want, advocates for preserving life, and calls for food and water to be provided to people who are incapacitated. Copies of the Will to Live are available through S.C. Citizens for Life or from the National Right to Life Committee at www.nrlc.org.
“Review what directives you have,” Corbett said. “Be vigilant, be prepared and be thorough, so that you and your family can stick up for life and advocate for your loved ones. Make sure if they go to the hospital or any health care or assisted living facility, even for a short period of time, that the providers know your loved one wants to live and die naturally, in the classic sense of the word.”