A gift for my loved ones
Many family life experiences are common for people in all places. Births, graduations, marriages and other milestones are expected and anticipated. Inevitably, sorrow comes at a loved one’s passing from this earthly life. We have expectations for long life and wholeheartedly sing “Many Years!” to one another. But the day comes when our elderly family members experience the progression of those years. The aging process and disease may take away their independence and they become incapacitated. Other circumstances may arise when an unforeseeable accident or illness occurs and someone “too young to die” has only months, weeks or days to live. In these situations, recent medical discoveries have enhanced the treatment protocols, some of which create crises for families who face moral, ethical and spiritual dilemmas in end-of-life care. “What is the right thing to do?” “What would he/she want me to do?” “What does my Faith tell me to do?”
As part of its Family Life Ministry, the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Christian Service and Humanitarian Aid [CSHA] has long been committed to providing resources for end-of-life care in written form, on-line in Parish Ministry Resources and in conference workshops. But there seemed to be a gap in legal documentation specific for Orthodox Christians that would guide faith-informed decisions.
At the November 2014 CSHA department meeting, a Task Force was established to consider various documents to determine the model that would best serve as an Orthodox Living Will and Advance Directive.
The Holy Synod Liaison to the department, His Eminence, Archbishop Melchisedek, gave his approval of the Task Force and his blessing on the members: Archpriest Thomas Moore, Holy Apostles Church, Columbia, SC, Coordinator; Priest Paul Fetsko, Director of Ethics at Mercy Health Systems, Fort Smith, AR; Deacon Mark Barna, co-author of the book A Christian Ending, Charleston, SC; and Nicholas Ressetar, Chief of Staff at Costopoulos, Foster and Fields, Harrisburg, PA. They determined it was best to develop entirely new resource materials based on the Orthodox perspective of end-of-life issues. They worked diligently to develop two comprehensive legal documents consistent with the teachings of the Orthodox Faith. The documents were presented to the Holy Synod of Bishops for approval in July 2015. At their October meeting, they gave their archpastoral blessing for distribution of the documents, which are now available on the OCA web site.
- “A Gift for my Loved Ones.” This package contains everything necessary to know should one become disabled or incapacitated and unable to make decisions on one’s own. It includes a Health Care Power of Attorney and Advance Directive for Health Care—Living Will.
- “Another Gift for my Loved Ones.” This package contains everything necessary to know to arrange a burial and funeral—an Advance Directive for Funeral Care.
The CSHA department urges clergy and faithful of all ages to become familiar with the documents, to reflect and pray about personal desires for medical treatment options, end-of-life care, and funeral and burial. Print the two documents, discuss them with loved ones and utilize them as legal declarations for final care.
Three related documents are also available.
Articles in Parish Ministry Resources:
- “Health Decisions – The Value of Advance Directives” by Archpriest Steven Voytovich.
- “Resources in Preparation for Dying, Death and Burial” by Archpriest John Shimchick.