Planning ahead: Bishops encourage us to talk about death and dying Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Mar. 06, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

We all know the quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.”

Although we will someday face death, most of us would rather not think about dying — let alone talk about it. However, the  Catholic bishops of Wisconsin are encouraging us to do just that.

Advance care planning as we face death

The bishops want us to reflect on what will happen when we are seriously ill. And they encourage us to talk with our family members, parish, doctors, and lawyers about what we want to do as we approach death.

Wisconsin’s bishops have consistently encouraged advance care planning and have recommended that all Catholics prepare a power of attorney for health care. Now, they’ve made it even easier for Catholics by publishing a form aimed at helping individuals convey their desires regarding health care decision-making in a manner that aligns with Catholic principles.

The form — provided in one version for those who are Catholic and in another version for those who are not —  was designed as an addendum to the State of Wisconsin’s Power of Attorney for Health Care (POAHC) document. By providing an additional advance care planning resource, the bishops hope to encourage all in Wisconsin to reflect upon their future health needs from a spiritual perspective.

Discussing our desires honestly with loved ones

The bishops also stress the need for individuals to pray for guidance, reflect on the principles of faith, and discuss their desires honestly and openly with loved ones.

“The bishops stress the importance of contemplating questions regarding care in light of Catholic teaching before a crisis occurs,” said John Huebscher, executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC), the public policy arm of the state bishops.

“Having conversations about the reality of illness and death in light of one’s faith is as important as completing a form. People must make certain that their health care agent fully understands what a loved one’s perspective is before being called upon to act on their behalf.”

In my own family, we have had situations where options were discussed beforehand — and we’ve had times when they were not talked about ahead of time. It was much easier to deal with situations where discussions took place and plans were documented, that’s for sure.

The role of faith communities

The bishops also wish to spur conversation about advance care planning within faith communities. They encourage parishes to work collaboratively with hospitals and hospice programs in providing outreach and support on advance care planning.

Some of our family members have completed forms in their parishes dealing with plans for their funerals, even including details for the Mass of Christian Burial and the funeral lunch. With some family members not active in the Church these days, it’s even more important to have your wishes on file with your parish and funeral home.

It is also a good idea to make arrangements with a Catholic cemetery for your burial site and marker. My husband and I did that last year at Madison’s Resurrection Cemetery, which offers a number of options.

New form clarifies Catholic principles

The new form published by the state bishops makes it clear that Catholics should follow certain principles about end-of-life issues. The form notes the difference between “ordinary or proportionate means” and medical treatments that are “extraordinary or disproportionate means” of preserving life.

They also discuss the obligation to provide food and water; opposition to suicide and euthanasia; being provided with medication or procedures necessary for our comfort; and, if we are dying, our preference to be attended by a Catholic priest so that we can receive the sacraments.

People must make certain that their health care agent fully understands what their perspective is before being called upon to act on their behalf, says the document.

The POAHC addenda are available at no cost on the WCC’s website, For further information on these publications, contact the WCC at 608-257-0004 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

As difficult as it is to think and talk about death and dying, it’s something we must all do with our loved ones — preferably before it’s too late.