I identify as a Roman Catholic Christian. Working in a 32-bed cardiac surgery ICU at a large university hospital brings ethical challenges that may not be seen in other nursing specialties. Throughout my unit, I care for patients who have undergone high risk cardiovascular and thoracic surgeries, received Ventricular Assist Devices, heart and lung transplantation, or ECMO. Many of these patients have successful treatments, but the risks are high and occasionally I am faced with ethical challenges. With regards to advanced medical and surgical care, futile treatment and euthanasia, the Catholic Church has held a historically strong position. Euthanasia is against Catholic teaching, while “[it] is also permitted, with the patient’s consent, to interrupt these means, where the results fall short of expectations. But for such a decision to be made, account will have to be taken of the reasonable wishes of the patient and the patient’s family, as also of the advice of the doctors who are [especially] competent in the matter” (CAN, n.d., para. 8). Therefore, discontinuing treatment or withdrawing mechanical means of life support are not against the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Roman Catholics have strong associations with the sacraments and traditions. The sacrament “Anointing of the Sick” is occasionally brought to a patient for whom I am caring. There have been times when there is a plan to withdraw life support and this sacrament was offered. Families are invited to pray and offer support to the patient for peace and comfort at the time of suffering. This sacrament is not only for those who are actively dying but may also be done when a patient is diagnosed with a terminal illness. The anointing is believed to bring strength and peace to the person being anointed, and though God does not always heal the person physically this sacrament is strongly valued within the faith (Catholic Answers, 2013). A spiritual compass is provided to those who follow a religious path. It is important to be respectful of the differences and support each other in our journey through life.