Conference held on Dignity at the End of Life Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by John Bohn, MD, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Mar. 23, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

First in a series on the recent conference on “Dignity at the End of Life, from Suffering to Hope,” held in Fitchburg.

FITCHBURG -- There’s no escaping it -- we are all going to die.

Although it may result from a sudden event, census trends predict that most of us will experience the end of life after an extensive period of “old age”. This period often brings us new challenges in the form of physical or cognitive disabilities.

The important need and obligation to know

Despite this inevitable reality, most of us are remarkably unaware, uninformed, and unprepared to adequately deal with the increasing complex, confusing, and critical decisions that accompany end-of-life or disability issues.

Perhaps more imminent is the likelihood that many of us will first need to face these issues as they surface in others close to us, such as family members and close friends.

Those who have already done so often harbor regrets that they could have handled the situation better if only they had possessed greater knowledge or obtained better guidance, but confess that they didn’t know where to turn, or even IF such support was available.

The confusing and dangerous landscape

Wouldn’t this all go better if we could get the education, advice, and resources we need to face such challenges?

Obviously, yes -- but it’s not that simple. There is an awful lot of misleading, biased, and even dangerous material out there -- often from seemingly appropriate sources -- masquerading as legitimate, truthful, and safe.

And much of this masquerading material is in direct conflict with Catholic principles. This means that Catholics are especially in need of proper guidance to aid in making difficult, complex, and sometimes controversial decisions for either themselves or their loved ones facing suffering, disabilities, and end-of-life issues.

Dignity at the End of Life Conference was a success

It was the shared goal to obtain such education and proper guidance that inspired many to invest a Saturday recently by attending the conference “Dignity at the End of Life, from Suffering to Hope” held in Fitchburg on March 4. The event was co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Catholic Medical Association Guilds and Human Life Alliance.

Attendees from as far away as Ohio included representatives from various healthcare fields, ministry, pro-life organizations, and patient advocates, as well as individuals simply interested in or needing education and guidance on issues discussed to help deal with personal or family situations.

“I found it exceptional,” reported Madison’s Deacon Jack Fernan, who speaks from the perspective of having served as a past state executive director for 115 non-profit nursing homes in Wisconsin, and later as ombudsman for nearly 500 of Wisconsin’s long-term care facilities.

Deacon Fernan was very impressed at the extent to which the conference directly addressed the emergence of troublesome trends in public perspectives about end-of-life care, as well as recent institutional and government policy-making which increasingly fails to affirm the dignity of life -- a matter of vital importance for all, especially Catholics.

In particular, the conference attracted a number of physicians throughout the state representing local Catholic Medical Guilds from Green Bay, LaCrosse, Madison, Marshfield, and Milwaukee.

Afterwards, physician reaction was emphatically positive and easily represented by the summary, “I learned a great deal both personally and professionally which will undoubtedly benefit both my family and the patients I serve,” as expressed by Dr. Mike Kloess of Madison’s Our Lady of Hope Clinic.

Conference presentations: relevant, practical, informative, and inspiring

Each of the excellent conference presentations merits a more in-depth discussion than space allows now, but will be individually covered in subsequent Madison Catholic Herald articles.

The presentations covered diverse topics including:

• A Catholic Understanding of Suffering.,

• Patient Support and Advocacy.

• Hospice Care from the 1970s to the 21st Century.

• The Growth and Success of Neonatal Hospice Programs.

• New Pathways to Care for the Elderly, the Sick, and Terminally Ill.

• A Patient’s Journey through Grief of Disease toward Meaning.

Each provided relevant facts, crucial guidance, and hopeful inspiration.

Invoking God’s blessing

After the conference, as a fitting finale, Fr. Greg Ihm (standing in for Bishop Robert C. Morlino, who was ill) celebrated this year’s “White Mass” at the conference site. Father Ihm is director of vocations for the Diocese of Madison.

A White Mass traditionally invokes God’s blessing upon those called to serve in the health care professions, including physicians, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, and others.

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