CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has launched a new initiative to promote awareness among the faithful surrounding important end of life matters that are often overlooked.
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki described the initiative as “a unique offering, designed to encourage conversation about end of life matters in light of the Catholic Faith.”
The project was funded in part by the Catholic Community Foundation and is the result of two years of work done by the Archbishop’s Archdiocesan Bioethics Committee, said Fr. Javier Bustos, chairman of the committee.
“We realized that there was very little information available to our Catholics on the Church teaching about the end of physical life,” he said. “In addition to it, we also realized that there was a great need of guided conversations around this very important topic. Most people talk about it only when they face the imminent death of their loved ones or themselves.”
The project’s centerpiece is a video series that was filmed last summer at Cardinal Stritch University’s Nursing Simulation Lab. The videos recreate a scenario facing so many Catholic families — the impending death of a loved one who has no living will. The series’ narrator, canon lawyer and Blessed Sacrament pastor Fr. Mark Payne, briefly explores topics that families will grapple with in situations like this, including the creation of advance directives (also known as living wills), surrogate decision-making and types of treatments.
In developing the videos, the archdiocese relied on the expertise of two medical advisors — Julie Lepianka, MSN, RN, Assistant Professor at the Ruth S. Coleman College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Cardinal Stritch University and Dr. Tim Jessick, Palliative Medicine Physician with Aurora Health Care, who also serves on the Bioethics Committee.
“The video series has uniquely captured centuries of wisdom from the Catholic moral tradition on end-of-life care and placed that wisdom in the context of the lived reality of illness, suffering and death, in less than three minutes each,” said Mark Repenshek, Ph.D., vice president of Ethics and Church Relations at Ascension Health, who assisted in the project.
Repenshek said that he hopes the videos and their accompanying resources will help to unveil what he describes as one of the Church’s “best kept secrets” — the Catholic moral tradition on end of life care.
“Whether it is through educational efforts like that of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee or directly at the bedside throughout our Catholic health care ministries, I have had the very real experience of witnessing the incredible gifts our tradition offers the whole person, especially in his or her vulnerability of illness,” he said. “The need for an initiative like this is to ensure that throughout the Catholic community and beyond, the gift of our tradition does not remain a ‘best kept secret.’”
The videos are meant to provoke questions among the faithful that can be answered by additional resources the initiative provides, both on its website and at the in-person presentations that are being scheduled around the archdiocese.
“My guess is that most people who see these videos may end up with questions, which is exactly what we hope,” said Fr. Bustos. “In order to properly respond to these questions, we are offering a couple of live conferences where Catholics would have the opportunity to deepen into each one of the topic as well as ask these questions to qualified ethicists.”
The first conference is planned for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa, where Repenshek will be the presenter. Christ King Associate Pastor Fr. Will Arnold will also be present to address theological questions attendees may have. A Spanish-language conference is planned for 7 p.m. March 7 at St. Adalbert Parish in Milwaukee, where Fr. Bustos will present.
“It has been my experience professionally and personally that too often, at best, we limit the extent to which our faith intersects the lived reality of illness and death to ourselves,” said Repenshek. “I hope these videos offer a new and profound opportunity to move outside ourselves and ‘start the conversation’ on how we understand the reality of illness and death in the context of the communities in which we live, especially our Catholic community.”
Planning for a second video series, which will explore topics like euthanasia and pastoral care, is underway for the second half of 2020.
The videos can be viewed at archmil.org/endoflife. The helpful resources on a variety of end of life issues, including links to documents of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as a Catholic Addendum to Power of Attorney for Healthcare, which, among other things, stipulates the use of ordinary or proportionate means to preserve life and outlines what constitutes disproportionate means for preserving life.
“Our hope is that Catholics understand that when we pray the Our Father and say, ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,’ we truly mean not only to live according to God’s will, but also to die according to it,” said Fr. Bustos. “Since the world of medical technology keeps developing, there is a need to properly understand the challenges we have when we or a loved one face death.”