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Moral theologian warns of dangers of POLST documents in end-of-life care

Catholic World News - August 25, 2011

E. Christian Brugger, a moral theologian at Denver’s archdiocesan seminary, warns that POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) documents--which have become part of legislation in 12 states--are paving the way for a more widespread “euthanasia by omission.”

Brugger explains:

The document consolidates on a single form provisions formerly dispersed over several documents: it acts as a living will specifying the scope of medical interventions a patient wishes in case of incapacitation; it makes specific provision for a do-not-resuscitate order (DNR); it has a box to check in the event a patient wishes to refuse treatment with antibiotics; and it allows a patient to designate a proxy decision maker.

Why is the document problematic? … POLST-type legislation removes the condition that a patient is terminally ill or diagnosed in a PVS before a refusal order is actionable. In other words, the new law permits any adult patient to refuse any treatment at any time for any reason in the event they lack decisional capacity; and health care professionals, directed by a doctor's medical order, ordinarily would be (and are) required to carry out the order …

The POLST-type law grants adults the civil right to direct healthcare professionals to remove life-sustaining procedures when those procedures are not futile and when the burden imposed by them would be offset by a reasonable hope of recovery. It juridically extends the ordinary context for the refusal of life-support to include the motive of bringing about death. Without using the term, the new law authorizes euthanasia.

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