By Malie Hudson
MURRIETA—Nearly 100 participants from around the Diocese came with lots of questions for end of life care professionals at a workshop sponsored by the Diocesan Department of Life, Dignity and Justice on June 10 at St. Martha Parish in Murrieta.
The workshop, “Embracing Our Dying, Preparing for End of Life,” began with a variety of questions from participants which included, among others, how to facilitate discussions on end of life care with family members, the Church’s position on cremation and advance directives. Some of the participants work or volunteer in positions where they often encounter other Catholics facing death.
“I wanted to learn where the Catholic Church stood on fetal demise or fetal death, and I would like to be able to help Catholic parents by giving them some information,” said Lupe Adame, a registered nurse for Labor, Delivery and Postpartum. “We have social workers and a list of other people the hospital refers them to but sometimes some of my patients need specific answers. I get a lot of Spanish speaking parents and I would like to guide them to the right information.”
Karen Dressel, a funeral ministry volunteer at St. Martha Parish, also took advantage of the free workshop.
“I wanted to find out what the Catholic teachings were on end of life. I also felt some of the information might supplement what I do on the funeral liturgy ministry,” said Dressel. “And, I’m not getting any younger.”
The event featured speakers offering general information on hospice and palliative care, advance health care directives, POLST (Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment) and Catholic theology and teaching on end of life care.
“We are blessed with an incredible amount of wisdom today,” said Mary Huber, Respect Life and Pastoral Care Ministry Director. “The purpose of this event is to help all of us better understand the areas of end of life care. From ethical, religious directives in the Catholic Church to the practical components that help us navigate life’s situations.”
Father Gregory Elder, Ph.D., covered Catholic theology and teaching on the topic. He spoke to participants on the rights of the dying and then addressed questions from the audience on fetal demise, cremation and life support.
“In the Catholic tradition we believe very strongly in the right to life,” he said. “That’s the foundational principle that people have the right to be alive from conception until natural death.”
Dr. Laurence Boggeln, M.D., addressed the functions of hospice and palliative care and how to have effective communication with patients and their families.
According to Dr. Boggeln, palliative care is treatment that enhances comfort and improves the quality of an individual’s life during the last phase of life. The expected outcome is relief from distressing symptoms and the easing of pain. Hospice is different in that it provides support and care for those in the last phases of life limiting illness. It recognizes dying as part of the normal process of living, affirms life and neither hastens nor postpones death. Hospice focuses on quality of life for individuals and their family caregivers.
“I think in the end of life situation, we feel helpless because there’s not much we can do,” said Dr. Boggeln. “I think there’s always something more we can do. And it can be talking or answering questions or reassurance that you’re doing the right thing. I’m confident as a hospice physician that I can control symptoms with God’s help.”
Dr. John M. Byrne, D.O., a primary care physician at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Loma Linda, gave the final presentation on putting end of life wishes in writing. He addressed the differences between advance directives and POLST, a medical order for specific medical treatments, serious medical illness or advanced frailty.
The workshop ended with a panel of experts addressing questions that participants wrote on paper and placed in a basket.
“Death is not black and white,” said Huber. “There are many gray areas and we should be comfortable talking to our loved ones about end of life.”
Malie Hudson is a freelance writer based in Riverside.