A reader asks

I’m in school at Seattle U and am trying to write a paper on dementia and the ethical implications of caring for people with this problem. I am wondering what church documents might be relevant to the subject of end of life care. Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

I’m afraid I don’t have a clue. If any of my readers do, could you help her out in the comboxes?

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  • Patrick

    I work with dementia. I have found the Linacre Quarterly published by the Catholic Medical Association to be a big help (most of the time).

  • kenneth

    Your best bet is to probably start with the Usccb.com. You’ll probably find some very detailed documents there and in the Catechism about the Church’s end of life positions. Those requirements, which cover things like feeding and hydration requirements, etc., will cover much of what Alzheimer’s patients undergo as a progressive and terminal illness. There are also implications for how the disease impacts a person’s ability to seek absolution, or even to commit a conscious sin at all. I believe in that case, Annointing of the Sick can forgive sins if the person is not able to do a normal confession.

    Jimmy Akin covered this a while back:

    When all else fails, put the experts to work for you. An email or call to your local diocese or any priest can probably get you right to the sorts of documents you need. The Vatican and the U.S. Catholic establishment is full to the brim of people who spent years in school studying bioethics and theology.

  • kenneth

    You ought to also look around for advocacy groups for Alzheimers and the like. People in these orgs can walk you through the legal and ethical knots of families dealing with demented parents etc. It’s a very tricky and heartbreaking thing for families. There are legal procedures for getting people stripped of their own autonomy, basically, if the family can demonstrate they’re too ill to care for themselves. That often comes at a time when they are “mostly” lucid but begin to engage in dangerous driving, wandering etc.

  • Jerry N
  • Sharon

    You might like to have a look at the National Catholic Bioethics Center

  • Marthe Lépine

    I have a similar question (just for information, though, as I don’t really know anyone dealing with the situation): How about giving Communion to a person affected with Down Syndrome? I understand from some reading I have made that many of them are actually able to understand some things, but it just takes them much more time than people not so affected. Therefore, if and when comes a time when they are able to understand the Divine Presence, would it be possible to give them Communion? and who should make the decision – a parish priest of a bishop? Just thought I would like to ask, and someone else might find the reply useful but hesitated to ask themselves.

    • Joseph

      I don’t think it’s a requirement to “understand” the Divine Presence. It’s a mystery and, therefore, cannot be completely understood. The Church doesn’t require one to be a brilliant theologian or even be able to perform simple addition to be a Catholic. It’s Protestant religions that require intellect and a profession of faith based on that intellect. The Catholic Church actually believes humans with mental handicaps can be Christians too.

      • Amy

        It’s not that they have to understand the Divine Presence, but they do need to have some level of understanding that this is not ordinary bread, and there cannot be any danger that they will profane the Host (not as an intentional sacrilege, but from a lack of understanding).

    • S. Murphy

      Downs Syndrome leaves a pretty wide range of ability/disability, too. More than a few folks with Downs have at least the understanding that a 7-year-old would have; some have a lot more than that.

  • Aaron Streeting

    The USCCB has links to a number of Church documents related to end-of-life care, and their website for their statement on assisted suicide has even more links about the dignity of those who are nearing the end of life:


    Here’s a good article from the USCCB about “quality of life” issues:


  • Adolfo

    I suggest contacting Judy Klein, who is near completion on her phD in Bioethics at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athanaeum in Rome. You can contact her through pelicanconnection.net.

  • Anna

    The USCCB site has several resources ( http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/end-of-life/euthanasia/upload/q-a-nutrition-and-hydration-patients-vegetative-state.pdf – 2011-09-12 ) and the Natl’ Catholic Bioethics Center is a good place to look too.
    Also the Vatican site has things like the following:
    Don’t know how much of JPII’s Theology of the Body you’ve read, but his “adequate anthropology” does provide a very complete answer to those who see the dying or profoundly disabled as less than truly human. I wrote a paper on that myself a few years ago; the McGregors, of KVSS radio, and I did a short series (4-part, though the 2nd isn’t much good; the rest are fine…) on that in March and April of 2006. They probably have that taped somewhere if you think it would be useful.

  • Ted Seeber

    The biggie encyclical that all liberals and conservatives like to dissent from, and thus that I like to say was the crowning Achievement of Blessed John Paul The Great’s reign, had some to say on the subject:
    Evangelium Vitae

  • Charles E Flynn