One of the 10 Commandments found in the book of Genesis instructs Christians to honor their father and mother. This biblical commandment takes on a new meaning when father and mother become elderly and need extra care. The Catholic Church firmly believes that every person has the right to life, and protecting the dignity of life in all forms is the responsibility of the church family.
Right to Life
The Catholic Church is one of the staunchest supporters of a person’s right to life. Their scope is not limited to simply being against abortion, as the term “pro-life” may imply. Rather, the church believes that everyone—young, old, handicapped, those in prison—has the right to live as normal a life as possible.
Care of the Elderly
Elderly care is a unique challenge. As the body and mind begin to break down, caregivers often must make tough decisions about the comfort and care of the elderly. The Catholic Church teaches that those in need deserve even more respect and care so that they may lead normal and active lives for as long as possible. Medical care to lessen suffering is paramount for the elderly to maintain their dignity at this stage in their lives.
Anointing of the Sick
One of the ways the Catholic religion differs from other Christian denominations is by the Catholic Church’s practice of sacraments. Sacraments are actions that Catholics take over the course of their lives that bring them closer to God. The seven sacraments include baptism, reconciliation, Holy Eucharist, confirmation, matrimony, holy orders and anointing of the sick. When a person is elderly, has a terminal disease or is preparing for an operation, he or she may receive this sacrament. A priest anoints the person’s head with oil and says “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” By offering this sacrament to elderly and ill, the Catholic church reinforces their stand that the elderly deserve the same rights and respect given to anyone at any time during his or her life.
While the Catholic Church stresses the importance of an elderly person having the right to as normal of a life as possible, a person can choose to not take extraordinary means to prolong his or her life. In this instance, the church does not see this as causing death. Rather, a person is simply choosing not to stop death from happening naturally. When at all possible, this choice should be made by the patient.
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