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UK Catholic bishops offer guidance on end of life decisions

By Susan Gately - 26 July, 2015

300,000 postcards offering advice on 'end of life' decisions distributed at UK Day for Life today. "God will call us in his good time, and the time we have left for living and loving is always short."

old handsThis year’s Day for Life in the UK will focus on Catholic teaching about appropriate treatment at the end of life. The day comes against a background of moves in the UK to introduce assisted dying legislation.

The ‘Day for life’ is a day in the Church’s year dedicated to praying for the protection of human life and raising awareness about its meaning and value at every stage and in every condition. In Ireland it is celebrated on 4th October, in England and Wales today and in Scotland on 31st May.

Marking the day in England and Wales, over 300,000 postcards will be distributed to parishioners offering guidance about end of life decisions. The postcard focuses on two thoughts to help guide people at the end of life: the first is to love life. “Every person is loved by God and every life is a precious gift never to be destroyed or neglected. It is wrong to hasten or bring about death. God will call us in his good time, and the time we have left for living and loving is always short,” it says.

The second point is to accept death. “This means there is no obligation to pursue medical treatment when it no longer has any effect or, indeed, harms the patient, or where the risks or burdens of the treatment outweigh the likely benefits.”

“Catholics cherish and celebrate the gift of life but they are not vitalistic in saying that life must be preserved at all costs,” says Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, Bishop John Sherrington.

Judgements are to be made about “types of treatment”, taking into account the benefits and burdens of the treatment as well as the person’s total medical condition and well-being. “This means there is no obligation to pursue medical treatment when it no longer has any effect or, indeed, harms the patient, or where the risks or burdens of the treatment outweigh the likely benefits,” he says.

The lead Bishop for Day for Life admits that sometimes people have to make hard decisions and the views of family and experts are needed. In these situations, two questions can guide people he says: “Is this decision loving life?” and “Is this decision accepting the inevitability of death?.”

Pope blessing old womanA collection taken up in churches in  England and Wales today will go towards the work of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre and other life-related activities supported by the Church.

Meanwhile Pope Francis has sent his good wishes and support for the day and a blessing for those taking part or working to promote the dignity of every life. In a letter received by Britain’s Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Pope imparted his Apostolic Blessing “upon all those persons who are participating in this significant event and working in any way for the promotion of the dignity of every human person from the moment of conception until natural death.”

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