For guidance and moral foundation, we use Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Click here to download a summary of the ERD.
There are two aims of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs):
Catholic healthcare is guided by four normative principals.
Catholic healthcare is marked by respect among caregivers, which leads to treating all with sensitivity and compassion. It is also distinguished by service and advocacy to the poor and vulnerable.
Catholic healthcare institutions treat associates respectfully and justly, and associates and physicians respect and uphold the ERDs.
Catholic healthcare extends to and embraces the spiritual nature of the person: physical, psychological, social and spiritual.
Pastoral and spiritual care staff minister to the religious and spiritual needs of all patients, residents and families. They work collaboratively with community clergy and have appropriate professional preparation.
Sacramental ministry is available to Catholic patients and residents.
Mutual respect, trust, honesty, and confidentiality mark this relationship. The personal nature of care must not be lost, even when a team of caregivers is involved.
The dignity of the person is respected, regardless of health problem or social status, (e.g., race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, age, newborn status, handicap or source of payment).
Patients receive information about their rights, under the laws of their state, to make an advance directive for their medical treatment. Advance directives, consistent with moral teaching, are respected and honored.
Free and informed consent requires that the patient or his or her surrogate receive all reasonable information about the essential nature of the proposed treatment and its benefits; its risks, side-effects, consequences, and cost; and any reasonable and morally legitimate alternatives, including no treatment at all.
Organ donation is encouraged.
The transplantation of organs from living donors is morally permissible when such a donation will not sacrifice or seriously impair any essential bodily function and the anticipated benefit to the recipient is proportionate to the harm done to the donor. Furthermore, the freedom of the prospective donor must be respected, and economic advantages should not accrue to the donor.
The well-being of the whole person must be taken into account in deciding about any therapeutic intervention or use of technology. Therapeutic procedures that are likely to cause harm or undesirable side-effects can be justified only by a proportionate benefit to the patient.
An ethics committee or some alternate form of ethical consultation should be available to assist by advising on particular ethical situations, by offering educational opportunities, and by reviewing and recommending policies.
Catholic healthcare ministry honors the sanctity of life from conception until death.
With the advance of the biological and medical sciences, society has at its disposal new technologies for responding to the problem of infertility. While we rejoice in the potential for good inherent in many of these technologies, we cannot assume that what is technically possible is always morally right.
For legitimate reasons of responsible parenthood, married couples may limit the number of their children by natural means.
Catholic health institutions may not promote or condone contraceptive practices but should provide, for married couples and the medical staff who counsel them, instruction both about the Church’s teaching on responsible parenthood and in methods of natural family planning.
Abortion and elective sterilization are not allowed. However, compassionate care is provided to those who have had an abortion.
Some specific forms of procreative assistance are permissible.
Any technique used to achieve conception by the use of gametes coming from at least one donor other than the spouses is prohibited. Participation in contracts or arrangements for surrogate motherhood is also prohibited.
A Catholic healthcare institution that provides treatment for infertility should offer not only technical assistance to infertile couples but also should help couples pursue other solutions (e.g., counseling, adoption).
Prenatal diagnosis and treatments must not threaten the life of the unborn child.
A Catholic healthcare institution will be a community of respect, love, and support to patients and residents and their families as they face the reality of death. The task of medicine is to care even when it cannot cure.
Catholic healthcare avoids the use of futile or burdensome technology that offers no reasonable benefit to patient or resident.
Medical staff must not withdraw technology with the intention of causing death. Euthanasia and physician-assisted dying is not permitted.
In principle, there is an obligation to provide patients with food and water, including medically assisted nutrition and hydration for those who cannot take food orally. Medically assisted nutrition and hydration become morally optional when they cannot reasonably be expected to prolong life or when they would be “excessively burdensome for the patient or [would] cause significant physical discomfort, for example resulting from complications in the use of the means employed.”
Patients and residents should be kept as free of pain as possible. Pain suppressing or alleviating medicine that may indirectly shorten a person's life is permitted so long as the intent is not to hasten death.
In ever-increasing ways, Catholic health care providers have become involved with other health care organizations and providers.
New partnerships can be viewed as opportunities for Catholic healthcare institutions and services to witness to their religious and ethical commitments and so influence the healing profession. For example, new partnerships can help to implement the Church’s social teaching.
On the other hand, new relationships may pose serious challenges to Catholic identity. Systematic and objective moral analysis is necessary when considering new relationships. Reliable theological experts are to be consulted when considering arrangements with other organizations.
Partnerships that affect the mission or religious and ethical identity of the Catholic healthcare institution must respect Church teaching and discipline. Decisions leading to serious consequences for the identity or reputation of Catholic healthcare services are made in consultation with local church leadership.
Implementation of arrangements with other organizations must be periodically reviewed to ensure alignment with Church teaching.