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DisappointedWithMyFathersDecision wrote:

Hi, guys —

My Mother passed away to the Lord on May 12th of this year. She was in the hospital with septic shock. After two days in the (ICU) Intensive Care Unit, the doctors told us she could not live and would die within two days, at the most. I immediately called for the priest-chaplain, who came at once to gave her the Last Rites, thank God.

Then the family, about 30 in number, started talking about removing life support:

  • a ventilator
  • a kidney dialysis machine, and
  • her eight [IV — intravenous] bags.

I gathered them all together in the waiting room and explained that our Church is a life-affirming Church; that we don't believe in killing sick people so that we may be out of our pain at their being sick. I begged my father to continue extraordinary means for the two days the doctors gave my Mom to live, telling him:

  • it would not harm Mom in any way
  • she was not suffering
  • it would not be overzealous, burdensome, or disproportionate and
  • it would be a demonstration of faith and hope to allow her do die in God's time, not in my father's time.

He ignored me and terminated life support about ten minutes later. Mom died about fifteen minutes after that, with me holding her hand and praying.

I think my father committed euthanasia and excommunicated himself latae sententiae, but I've spoken to two priests and they just don't want to listen to my argument that it was his intent to cause death, in order to relieve her suffering, which, at the time, didn't exist.

I am in turmoil and think he should be tried in a Church court, but it seems that, with all the politically-correct priests we have here in southeastern Pennsylvania, it might not happen.

  • Did my father terminate life support with the wrong intent and therefore excommunicate himself?
  • How do I go about requesting a Church trial?


  { Did my father terminate life support with the wrong intent and excommunicate himself? }

Mary Ann replied:

Disappointed —

Since your mother was actively dying, it was not necessary to keep the dialysis going, the lack of which would presumably not have killed her before the septic shock. In other words, the dialysis was of no real benefit if she was dying of septic shock that couldn't be stopped.

As for the ventilator, it can be removed when a person is close to death, if it is wished, so that the person can speak. Removal of the ventilator would mean, not that you were killing her by depriving her of oxygen, but that the condition she had was killing her. Keeping her on the ventilator when she is actively dying could be simply a prolongation of the dying, which it is not required to do, especially since it may be more burdensome for her.

If, and when, death is imminent, it is moral to cease certain curative or supportive measures that are no longer useful, but the person should always have basic care:

  • nutrition
  • hydration and
  • pain relief, as long as they can be absorbed and don't cause additional harm.

If others needed to see your mom, or she needs to see them, then one might have a duty to keep her on the ventilator until the serious business was completed.

Without knowing all the medical facts, your Dad may or may not have intended euthanasia, but it seems what he did does not necessarily or objectively qualify as an act of intended euthanasia.

Don't let your anger at your father interfere with the proper grieving of your mother. Don't rush to judgment.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Dear Disappointed —

In addition to Mary Ann's answer, when our knowledge base was first established, I posted this web posting which was answered by one of my colleagues and these Vatican documents from Pope St. John Paul II and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

I think it will help,


Disappointed replied:

Ms. Parks,

Thank you very much, for your prompt reply.

I agree that extraordinary means could have licitly been removed, but only if my father's intent was licit. Mom was in a medically-induced coma, so unfortunately she could not indicate her desires; she had no advance directive.

I suppose the sticky point for me revolves around my father's intent. I believe his intent in withdrawing extraordinary means of life support was to cause or hasten Mom's death in order to alleviate all human suffering however the suffering he sought to alleviate was his own, not Mom's. I believe this for two reasons.

  1. First, on Tuesday, May 11, 2010, coma was medically induced. At that time, while the medical staff was trying so hard to help her, my father was telling her:

    It's OK to go, Patricia.

I was stunned. I thought to myself,

    You're telling her it's OK to die while everyone is trying to help her live?


    Who are you to tell someone when it's OK to die?

  1. Second, my father told me years ago, when Mom's health began a sort of decline, but not a dramatic decline, that he would never want to see her live:

    • like a vegetable
    • in a wheelchair, or
    • be unable to use the toilet without assistance because
  2. What sort of a life would that be?

I told him at that time that:

  • I was sure Mom's death was many years away; it was years away, and
  • God would take care of her, no matter what happened, and
  • I didn't think we can judge the quality of another person's life.

to which he made no reply. This indicates, to me, a predisposition to commit euthanasia.

Two months ago, with my Mom's cremains still in an urn in his closet, I e-mailed him and CC'd the Archdiocesan Vicar for our county and the Vice-Chancellor for our archdiocese. I pointed out to him that by not burying or interring Mom's cremains he was violating several Church requirements, which I listed. This did prompt him to bury Mom's cremains with the Rite of Committal, which was held this past Thursday.

In my e-mail, I specifically pointed out to him that I believed he withdrew extraordinary means to cause my Mom's death and to eliminate human suffering. I further challenged him to deny my accusation if he disagreed with it. He has not denied it.

  • Do these factors help you evaluate this matter further?

Thank you so much for your time and assistance.


Mary Ann replied:

Disappointed —

It is not for us to judge intent. One must not judge the moral intent of another. If what he did was not materially evil, then his intent, if you positively know it by what he said, could perhaps be a reason to be angry at him, or, better, to be sad for him in his ignorance, distress, or weakness.

Nevertheless, it is not a matter for any court other than the court of the Sacrament of Penance.

Mary Ann

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