Value of Life vs. Quality of Life

Last week, Deacon Jim stopped by and led a discussion about end of life issues.  It was the Church Guys’ first co-ed event and it was well-received.  It was particularly interesting having a physician as part of the discussion.  His contribution brought a new perspective to the table.

This is quite a simple, yet tricky area.  It seems like the basic principle is clear:  a Catholic is obliged to be a good steward of his or her own health, but may refuse any medical intervention that is unreasonably burdensome.  However, it is always immoral to make those decisions based on a “quality of life” calculus.

This principle seems reasonably well-defined or, at least, as well defined as the possibilities of language allow.  What I discovered, though, as I worked through some problems is that “burdensomeness” often amounted in practice to a quality of life assessment.  Take, for example, the role of financial considerations.  Deacon Jim made clear that finances were a legitimate factor in assessing burdensomeness.  But isn’t that just a different way of saying that the treatment would lower one’s standard of living (quality of life) too much?  This is why, I think, many conscientious Catholics err (if they do) in evaluating these questions.  How does one separate quality of life measures from burdensomeness, which inherently has to have an objective standard for measurement.   But there really does not appear to be any.  Maybe someone can clear it up in the comments.

Once again, let me extend a St. Francis Church Guys “thank you” to Deacon Jim for a thought provoking, interesting, and informative presentation as well as on open invitation to return whenever he wants.


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