Catholic teaching about end-of-life care will be the focus of a Jan. 15 event sponsored by the Finger Lakes Guild of the Catholic Medical Association. The event, which is open to all, will take place at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, and participants may choose to attend in person on the Pittsford campus or participate virtually via Zoom.
The talks and breakout sessions included in the half-day program will cover such topics as advance directives, pain control, ventilators and morphine use, and the differences between hospice care, hospital care and home care. These sessions likely will prove helpful to health-care professionals as well as members of the general public, according to Dr. Thomas Carroll, president of the Finger Lakes Guild.
“The general world has moved far away from Catholic teaching, and Catholic teaching I think has remained anchored where it should be,” said Carroll, a doctor of general medicine and palliative care who serves on the faculty at the University of Rochester. “There can be a lot of confusion. You could be hearing one thing from the doctor and another from the pastor or another a Catholic parishioner. There can be a lot of tension there, in terms of people trying to figure out what is the right thing to do.”
Recent years have seen legislative pushes to legalize so-called physician-assisted suicide, which the Catholic Church opposes, Carroll said. It’s important for Catholics to know and understand what the church teaches about such issues, noted Shannon Kilbridge, director of the Diocese of Rochester’s Office of Life Issues.
“As Catholics, it’s critical to defend life at all stages, including natural death, and to know there are people and resources available for those at the end of life to support them through challenging times,” Kilbridge said. “We appreciate the education offered by the Finger Lakes Guild on this important topic.”
The arrival of COVID-19 nearly two years ago forced many people to think about advance-care directives and other end-of-life issues for the first time, Carroll added.
“With COVID, more people have died in this past year than would be expected had the pandemic not been a thing,” he said.
Advance-care directives in particular have become not only valuable but necessary in recent months, as concerns over spreading COVID-19 have prompted many hospitals to enact strict visitation limits, and in some cases to not allow patients to have any visitors, he added. These restrictions have complicated the decision-making process for many family members, even if they’ve already discussed end-of-life issues with their loved ones and know the patients’ wishes.
“If you don’t have advance directives in place, it’s that much harder,” he said.
During the Jan. 15 event, the first talk of the day will cover the basic principles of Catholic teaching related to the end of life. Three later talks will cover advance directives, pain and symptom control, and hospice and comfort-care homes. Each of these four topics will be discussed further in breakout sessions later in the morning, Carroll said.
Virtual participants may listen to the four lectures via Zoom, but the breakout sessions will not be available virtually, Carroll said. Those who participate in person also may opt to participate in a 7:30 a.m. Mass at St. Bernard’s as well as lunch at the conclusion of the final breakout session at 12:45 p.m.
Attendance at the event is capped at 50, and those wishing to attend must register by Jan. 11. People may continue to register to attend via Zoom even after the Jan. 11 deadline for in-person registration has passed. Organizers are monitoring the COVID situation in Monroe County and are prepared to pivot to an all-virtual event if necessary, Carroll said.