The Courier: The Dignity of the Human Person and POLST

(by Peter Martin)
 April 2013

The Bishops of Minnesota have recently written “Stewards of the Gift of Life,” a pastoral statement that has great significance for those nearing the end of life. This document cautions the faithful of a new form that many hospitals, long-term care facilities and healthcare systems are using: Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining treatment (POLST).

POLST is preferred in healthcare facilities because it streamlines the difficult and often time-consuming process of making end of life decisions. It does this by way of a form that defines the desired actions to be taken (or not) at the end of life.

The bishops wish to advise, however, that the decision-making process cannot be completed when the circumstances are unknown. A particular medical intervention could be unethical or morally obligatory depending on the circumstances. In other words, the moral decision making process cannot be determined ahead of time due to the simple fact that the future cannot be known!

So, what alternative does someone have if they are presented with a POLST form? Another form exists called a Catholic Advanced Directive with durable power of attorney. This allows a person to make their desires known (to the extent that this is possible without knowing the future) and to select a trusted individual to speak on their behalf if they are unable to do so.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference has prepared a Minnesota Catholic Health Care Directive that meets our state’s legal requirements and reflects our Catholic teaching. Additionally, they have a Health Care Directive Guide that answers basic questions about law, Church teaching, and completing a health care directive. View more: http://www.mncatholic.org/resources/mn-catholic-healthcare-directive-2/.