Goodbye, Aunt X.

It was too much effort
Too much strain
Too much struggle
Too much pain
She had her many
Reasons why
She’d had enough;
She’d rather die.

She wrote the letters
“D. N. R.”
Heroic measures
She would bar
She made it clear
So all would know…
The Catholic doctors
Just said “no”.

She should have died
Two weeks ago
If medicine trumped
Faith, you know.
Two weeks of pain
Against her will
The Catholic Church
Is evil still.

You don’t know her. I barely know her; I haven’t seen her in decades. She was my aunt, and now she’s dead. And that’s fine; by the end, it was very much what she wanted. What she did not want was more pain, more discomfort, more loss of dignity, more helplessness. She wrote DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) on a paper and pinned it to her shirt.

But she was in a Catholic hospital, so the doctors’ hands were tied. Of course they revived her. As they had on previous occasions, and as they tried to again until they were physically blocked by family.

Honestly, I am angrier that the church has this much control over anyone than that they did this specifically to my aunt. And it is no news to any of you that there are entirely too many communities in the US and around the world where the only available hospital is one under the thumb of the Catholic Church. Medicine should be secular, period.


  1. Die Anyway says

    My mother was taken to a Catholic hospital (Sacred Heart in Pensacola) when she was struck with what turned out to be a fatal infection. I knew her wishes for no heroic measures and DNR but was concerned that this particular hospital would fight us on it. Mom was under complete sedation and could not directly contribute but my sister brought a copy of Mom’s living will. The hospital staff took us to a conference room and discussed the ramifications. When we indicated that we wanted them to comply with Mom’s end-of-life decision, they complied completely. I was surprised. In the end, Mom lingered for a couple of days, still under complete sedation, and during that time we were visited by the chaplain, a grief counselor, and several prayer groups. A little bit annoying but we declined their services and they went away graciously. I can’t explain why our experience was different than yours. I certainly expected ours to be more like yours considering all of the similar stories we’ve seen over the last few years.

  2. says

    Allowing the religions to buy up churches was a horrible strategic error. If the US had government-controlled medicine, then perhaps we could expect even-handed treatment. But, no… It doesn’t work that way.

    And you can be sure that a wealthy person with a private doctor can afford to go to a hospital where their DNR is respected. And once the wealthy have taken care of themselves, the lawmakers have no more work to do on that topic…

  3. david says

    I worked as an attending physician at a large Catholic hospital for over 10 years. Proper DNR orders were always honored. Always. At request of family, withdrawal-of-care requests in appropriate cases were honored. I have many differences with the Church, but not on that issue.

  4. John Morales says

    I feel I should echo david @3 and Die Anyway @1, if only anecdotally.

    I live in Australia, and my mum is a Catholic to the bone and seeks Catholic hospitalisation (she has just came out of the ICU and is in recovery), but her DNR is expected to be honoured*.

    (But yes, the “suicide is a mortal sin” sensibility Catholics hold is rather problematic, as are IMO all sorts of virtue ethics)

    * Just like “natural” birth control is acceptable — pragmatically.

  5. Pliny the in Between says

    Not knowing any of the particulars, this unfortunate situation serves as a reminder that advanced directives must be well documented and each person with strong feelings about them should obtain their relevant forms from their states or primary care clinics, execute them and make sure that care givers and next of kin have copies. A copy at home can prevent similar problems with EMS as well. I’ve worked and cross covered in a number of Catholic affiliate Hospitals over the years and I have never experienced any push back on documented DNR directives. Medicare and Medicaid require documentation of advanced directives as part of a hospitalization where possible. In the USA (unlike some European countries), medicine operates under an assumption of life unless otherwise informed.

  6. StevoR says

    My condolences. No one should have to suffer that. Nothing more to say really.

    Just how dare these religious Zealots force people to die so badly – if that’s what you choose for you then okay but how dare you force it on everyone else?

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