The Anointing of the Sick is given those suffering from serious illness or infirmity when they are ready to depart this world. CNS photo/Andrea Dixon

Spiritual power of attorney

By  Quentin Schesnuik, Catholic Register Special
  • November 3, 2013

Chances are we have all heard of a Power of Attorney for Personal Care. It is typically drawn up for us by our lawyer, normally when we do our Will.

In our Power of Attorney for Personal Care (PAPC) we name the person(s) who will make our medical decisions should we become unable to make them ourselves due to severe illness, a serious accident or other cause. The document can also contain our views with respect to life support, artificial feeding and other medical measures.

And while making provisions for physical requirements are important, it is vital to ensure the proper care of our spiritual needs.

In your PAPC you can request the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick be given to you should you fall under serious illness. Your lawyer can help you draft the wording and insert the provision.

It is important to remember that such additional provisions within a PAPC are considered wishes that are normally followed but not legally binding. For this reason, you are advised to let your loved ones know your wishes to increase the likelihood that the provision will be followed and you will receive the sacrament.

Why do we need the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick? Simply, it helps to strengthen people who are suffering from serious illness. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1523 and 1524): “If the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given to all who suffer from serious illness and infirmity, even more rightly is it given to those at the point of departing this life; so it is also called sacramentum exeuntium (the sacrament of the departing). The Anointing of the Sick completes our conformity to the death and Resurrection of Christ, just as Baptism began it. It completes the holy anointings that mark the whole Christian life: that of Baptism which sealed the new life in us, and that of Confirmation which strengthened us for the combat of this life. This last anointing fortifies the end of our earthly life like a solid rampart for the final struggles before entering the Father’s house.

“In addition to the Anointing of the Sick, the Church offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum. Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of ‘passing over’ to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’ The sacrament of Christ once dead and now risen, the Eucharist is here the sacrament of passing over from death to life, from this world to the Father.”

In Ontario, patients have specific rights when being treated in hospitals. They must be allowed to practise their faith. The Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination based on creed and physicians must comply with the Code when making medical decisions and providing services. Patients also have the right to meet with priests or other religious leaders.

When arriving at hospital, patients or their family decision makers should make their spiritual care needs known. Hospitals generally have a chaplain or religious care department, which can help families arrange a visit by a priest. The main thing to remember is that attending to a patient’s spiritual needs is not optional for a hospital. Staff are obligated to ensure proper spiritual care for you and your loved ones.

It is important that whatever spiritual instructions are contained in your PAPC are also shared with the people who are your designated decision makers. Following that, we place our trust in the Lord. As the Holy Spirit said through St. Paul in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Schesnuik is Manager of Planned Giving and Personal Gifts, Archdiocese of Toronto. To discuss a legacy gift, call 416-934-3400, ext. 561.)

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