Be careful when writing living will

The Sept. 13 issue contained an article urging every adult to get a living will and a health care surrogate ("Lessons learned at countless deathbeds," In Focus). While I have the utmost respect for Jim Towey, I must disagree with his advice about living wills, unless they are crafted very carefully.

As a health care lawyer and a nursing home administrator, I have seen time and time again where living wills become traps for the dying and their families. If you are not absolutely sure what you are requesting or permitting in a living will, this document can lead to all kinds of unwanted results. For example, Mom signs a living will that has the standard wording that she doesn't want tube feeding if she is "in a persistent vegetative, terminal or end-stage condition." I have seen patients who meet the definition of terminal condition who are conscious, talking and interacting on some level (although no longer competent). At that point, the patient is unable to change her living will, the family cannot override it, even with a durable power of attorney, and the health care provider is legally bound to follow her directive. Even if the family is in tears, insisting that Mom didn't understand, and please feed her through the tube, this can only be done through emergency court proceedings that overturn the living will.

What I advise to my RCIA classes is to carefully choose a health care power of attorney, inform that person of what their philosophy is and what they want done, and trust them to carry out those wishes. If you request a list of things in a legally binding document, you must accept the consequences.

-- Patricia Younger, JD, NHA, via e-mail

Mercy for senator?

In their commentaries ("Reflecting on the man who might have been," Sept. 13) on the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy, our bishops and the Catholic press really seemed to stress the idea "don't speak ill of the dead." Their emphasis was on such things as the senator's frequent attendance at Mass, his insistence on being considered a loyal Catholic who always "cherished the ideals of the Church." Perhaps the commentators had in mind the dictum of Pope John XXIII, who recommended "using the medicine of mercy rather than anathemas in dealing with our erring brethren."

The thought must have crossed many minds: If our Lord or St. John the Baptist were living on earth, how might they have responded when confronted with the likes of Kennedy? Might St. John have been as confrontational with him as he was toward King Herod? Would Our Lord have called pseudo-Catholic politicians "hypocrites" and a "brood of vipers" as he did the Pharisees?

-- D. John Barry, Torrance, Calif.

Slow, significant find

Unfortunately, there are numerous reasons why so many conclude our Church or religion in general is irrelevant. Empty pews, consolidated parishes and declining vocations bear such witness. While personally troubled, I do not agree.

As a graduate of the "Vatican II generation," I find myself re-energized 45 years later by the slow but significant discovery of Catholic social teaching. Whether it's the hangover following eight years of fascination with war or the excesses of American self-indulgence, we now find political and secular leadership that has grabbed our attention with their commitment to the poor, the hungry, peace, the homeless, the immigrant and health care for all. Values learned in Catholic schools, and from the statements by national bishops conferences and papal encyclicals.

-- G.G. Trageser, Hummelstown, Pa.

Honor our distinctions

I wish that in your articles you would honor distinctions between the Roman Catholic and other Catholic Churches. Romans are not the only type of Catholic in the world, or even in the United States. There are 22 non-Roman Churches in the Catholic Church. Each one has its own laws and traditions and its own priests and bishops.

Two recent articles illustrate a discourteous Roman-centric writing that excludes the rest of us Catholics from "The Catholic Church." In the Sept. 13 issue, the article about an upcoming new Roman missal ("Preparations begin for new Roman Missal," News Analysis) repeatedly speaks of "Catholics" getting ready for a new English-language missal. While true, this announcement is incomplete. See, the missal is not used in Eastern-rite Catholic churches. My Byzantine Catholic church follows the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom.

The Sept. 13 issue also had an article about indulgences ("Revival of indulgences," Faith). The first sentence calls indulgences a "time-honored Catholic tradition." The rest of the article repeatedly speaks of indulgences as a "Catholic" practice. Indulgence is exclusively a Roman practice. There is no tradition of indulgences in Eastern Catholicism.

These two examples are only illustrative of a long-standing bias against non- Roman Catholics.

-- Scott MacPherson, Redondo Beach, Calif.

Notes on indulgences

Thank you for printing the information on plenary indulgences in the Sept. 13 issue. Just a clarification and a suggestion.

It should be noted that confession is needed within 20 days (before or after) of the act gaining the indulgences; Communion should be on the day, I believe. (They were kind of pushed together in the pullout.)

Also, it might have been nice to note a few possible acts for a plenary indulgence, perhaps Stations of the Cross, half-hour of adoration or half-hour of reading Scripture, but especially the praying of the Rosary (in church or with family).

-- James Kurt, Jersey City, N.J.

Poignant question

My father, who died 30 years ago, was at King's Daughters Hospital, Ashland, Ky., in his last illness when a mountain preacher poked his head into the room and asked: "Brother, are you ready to die!?"

My father answered: "Are you? What kind of damned fool question is that?"

You asked the same question ("What every Catholic needs to know: Preparing for death," Sept. 13). I expect it becomes more poignant if one knows he's in the process, feeling the end coming?

-- Father Lawrence J. James, Grand Rapids, Mich.