Pastoral Care and the Rights of the Dying

Caring for the Dying and Their Rights

A beautiful stain glass depiction of a dying man surrounded by his family
A beautiful stain glass depiction of a dying man surrounded by his family
It is so common to speak about the dying and the  rights of the dying instead of to them.  They almost become the giant elephant in the room.  However, from a spiritual and ethical prism, the dying have rights that must be preserved and respected.  As people they have human rights and their needs, concerns and issues need to be met with compassion and professionalism.  In caring for the dying, we must remember these five rights.
The first rights of the dying is that they have a right to know as much of the truth that they can handle.  To purposely leave the dying patient out of the light of what is happening to their body is unethical and wrong.  Only when such knowledge can cause harm to a  patient should some information be disclosed with discretion and in possible dosages.  In some cases, as with children, every single detail is sometimes not needed in one’s discourse with the dying, while in other cases, the dying patient may well need or be able to handle the information.
The second right of the dying is they have a right to be free from suffering, pain and have hope for the future.  It is the duty of providers to provide the maximum comfort for the sick and dying as possible.  The dignity and spiritual nature of the person must be preserved in this final stages, even if for a simple hour.  Whatever can be done to alleviate suffering and provide comfort should be offered to the dying patient.
The third right of the dying that must be adhered to by pastoral care givers is the autonomy of the patient.  The patient has a right within his or her capabilities to participate in decisions.  This is even more helpful when one has a Advance Medicial Directive, but even without, the patient’s right to engage in dialogue regarding procedures is imperative to his or her dignity as a human person.
The fourth right is a patient can talk about death when ready.  Many families like to ignore the omnious signs of death but if a dying patient wishes to discuss this important event in his/her life, then the family and providers should take the time to hear the concerns of the dying.
The final right of the dying patient is the right to express emotional feelings, complete unfinished business and the presence of any religious figures.  A dying patient may want to express regret, or forgive a friend, or call upon a priest.  These are imperative to the spiritual and emotional well being of the person and his/her journey to the next phase of human existence.  To deny these things is a gross case of spiritual neglect.
If you are interested in pastoral care, please review the program.
(Some of the information found in this article was from “Helping Grieving People-When Tears Are Not Enough” by J. Shep Jeffreys)
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C