Saturday, August 6, 2011

"Life, Death & Catholic Medical Choices" a True Treasure

Here is my column that appears in this weekend's Catholic Post.   I invite your feedback.

As Catholics, we are neither vitalists who believe in aggressive treatment “no matter what” nor utilitarians who believe in “life unless and until it’s convenient for me and mine.” 

We have a good and almost immediate understanding that our life is a gift from God.  We know that we are called to be stewards, not owners, of life.   Even so, medical decision-making in today’s environment can be a challenge.

That’s where a book like Life, Death and Catholic Medical Choices (50 Questions from the Pews) becomes indispensable.  Written by two moral theologians, Redemptorist Fr. Kevin O’Neil, and Australian diocesan priest Fr. Peter Black, this book provides sound, reasoned guidance on medical moral issues for anyone, Catholic or not.  The book is helpfully divided into three sections:  questions about the beginning of life (such as abortion, assisted reproductive technologies, adoption), life “in between” (questions relating to organ donation, cancer, and various other topics), and end of life care (such as palliative/hospice care, euthanasia, and  cremation).

I can just see half of my readers’ eyes glazing over and hear the other half saying, “What’s so different or great about that?”  With all due respect, listen up!

 The first half is thinking, “too technical,” to which I respond: Life, Death & Catholic Medical Choices is clear information about so many delicate moral questions, you will find yourself painlessly enlightened and educated.  The authors of this book make it look effortless, but be assured this kind of writing is difficult to get right.   Read casually or deeply, and find much food for thought and discussion.

To the second half, who is thinking, “I can go ask my parish priest, or read some encyclicals, or read some blogs about these tough issues.”  I say, yes to all of that, especially consulting your parish priest (who might have this book already).  But the well-reasoned and easy to read wisdom of centuries of Church teaching distilled in Life, Death and Catholic Medical Choices is a true treasure.   And while I love blogs, I write blogs, and some of my best friends are bloggers, one simply cannot replicate the beautifully written clear help this book provides through a blog or other Internet source, however well-intention or faithful to Church teaching.

I struggled with how to convey this last point, because I am so grateful for the Internet.  In particular, blogs and web articles that share people’s personal stories of conversion or struggling with Church issues are a terrific source for spiritual growth and learning.

But there’s a certain kind of blogger or Internet source (who shall remain nameless here) that, however well-intentioned, can be guilty of practicing theology without proper training, and this should be avoided just as much as we would avoid a non-medical person attempting triple-bypass surgery.  Just because someone slept at a Holiday Inn Express-- or has read a lot of Church documents--doesn’t guarantee good results when one tries to charitably explain or defend Church teaching accurately, especially on complicated and critical issues of life and death.  In this area, what’s most needed is loving and well-formed professionals.  Two of these have written Life, Death & Catholic Medical Choices.  Take advantage of their wisdom and guidance, and keep this book on hand.

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