Q: I am in the advanced stages of diabetes,
having lost my legs, my right
eye and two of my fingers. I have also had
a heart attack and triple-bypass surgery. I
am on hemodialysis. Three years ago, I lost
my wife to lung cancer. Our three sons
are now 18, 19 and 22.
I have lost the strength to go on. Our oldest
moved out of the house six months
ago. Our youngest will go into the Marines
next month. The 19-year-old and I do not
get along. He has indicated that he will
be leaving home for college in a year.
Without assistance, I am housebound.
If I take myself off dialysis and subsequently
die, would that be considered
A: Thanks for writing. The choices
you face are difficult. My response
has benefited from the advice of
two moral theologians whom I consulted.
You wrote, “I have lost the strength
to go on.” If you had more emotional
support, would you want to discontinue
hemodialysis? Should your decision
now be the sum of your sons’
On this Web site,
Daniel Sulmasy, O.F.M., Ph.D., addresses
the question “Are Feeding
Tubes Morally Obligatory?” There is,
of course, a considerable difference
between the use of feeding tubes and
undergoing hemodialysis, but the
moral distinction between ordinary
means of sustaining life, which are
obligatory, and extraordinary means,
permitted but optional, still applies.
The dialysis that began as an ordinary
means of preserving your life
could, in time, become extraordinary
means. As long as you are mentally
competent, it is your decision whether
continuing hemodialysis means excessive
pain, cost and inconvenience—all
without reasonable hope of benefit. I
urge you to speak to your doctor and a
chaplain about your particular case.
Should you decide to discontinue
dialysis, this is not suicide but rather
allowing your disease to run its fatal
One moral theologian noted: “You
need a social structure that will support
your personal dignity and the value of
your life. Even with your infirmities,
you are still a human person who needs
and deserves both respect and support.
It sounds as though the lack of these
motivates your desire to stop treatment
and accept an early death. Your social
as well as obvious medical needs must
Diabetes has clearly caused great
hardship in your life. You have struggled
mightily. Your crisis now, though,
seems to be driven more by a change in
family circumstances than anything
else. Is that a reason to stop living?
May the Lord be your strength and
your guide in all your decisions.
My Daughter Resents God
Q: My daughter was fairly religious
until my husband and I got a
divorce. I have custody of our daughter, but
she sees her father regularly. Since the
divorce, she gets very upset whenever anyone
refers to God as “Father.”
My ex-husband and I have been very
careful not to try to run each other down
when we are alone with our daughter. I
love my faith and am distressed that this
same faith causes my daughter not comfort
but pain. Any suggestions?
A: Although you and your ex-husband
are trying to do your
best for your daughter, it is probably
inevitable that she has some negative
feelings about him because of issues
from the past, resentment about the
divorce, and because she wants him to
be more a part of her life than is now
In fact, children often feel that somehow
the divorce was their fault. That may be an unacknowledged part of
her feelings, affecting her relationship
I encourage you to keep doing what
you are doing. Be alert for an opportunity
to convey the idea that human
traits (gender, age, ethnic group, etc.) are
helpful for us but cannot totally describe
God because they are all limitations,
and God is not limited in those ways.
Childhood mental images of God
reflect the world in which a particular
child lives. When that world changes,
favored mental images of God may
need to be complemented by other
images provided in the Bible. If you
can complete the sentence “Believing
in God was simple for me until...,” then
you have already had this experience.
Recall how this process has worked
in your own life, and then help your
daughter deal with rough spots regarding
her belief in God.
Q: I had a Catholic education from
the third grade through high school.
I enjoyed what I learned because it seemed
very logical. It made me want to be a saint.
My difficulty is with our human origins.
The Bible says that our first parents were
Adam and Eve. It is clear from science,
however, that intermarriage among their
children would eventually result in mental
How could Adam and Eve be our first
parents? I have read that there is mathematical
evidence of a “mitochrondial Eve,”
but that still does not explain how mental
retardation could be avoided if everyone
is descended from a single set of parents.
A: The story of Adam and Eve and
their children is the Yahwist
writer’s way of saying that the entire
human family had a common origin.
It does not say that Cain married a
daughter of Adam and Eve, that his
brother Seth married another daughter
of Adam and Eve, and so on. In fact,
those daughters are never named but
are acknowledged in Genesis 5:4.
Genesis 4:16 says, “Cain then left
the LORD’s presence and settled in
the land of Nod, east of Eden.” The
next verse nonchalantly says, “Cain
had relations with his wife, and she
conceived and bore Enoch” (4:17). The
text never says that she was his sister.
The Adam and Eve story reinforces
the assertion that all humans, male
and female, have been made in God’s
image and likeness—as the Priestly
tradition affirms in Genesis 1:26. Both
stories about Adam and Eve strongly
argue against any racism, any suggestion
that part of the human family is
privileged because of its origins—as
compared to other parts of the human
The Book of Genesis does not answer
all our technical questions about
human origins, but it does give us a
unique, faith-filled account about God’s
intentions for us—and how sin came
into our world. We can regret what this
book omits or we can be grateful for
what it includes.
Q: Recently when someone wanted to
know the difference in the weekday
readings for Year I and Year II, I was not
sure how to respond.
A: During the seasons of Advent,
Christmas, Lent and Easter, the
readings are the same for both years. In
Ordinary Time, the Gospel readings are
the same. In Year I (odd-numbered
years), the first reading is more often
from the Old Testament. In Year II
(even-numbered years), that reading is
usually from the New Testament.
Feasts and solemnities have their
own readings. That is the case, for
example, with the feast of the Baptism
of the Lord, which is celebrated
this year on January 9, 2006, a Monday.
The next day’s readings are from
Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary
Q: A friend recently asked me to recommend a book. Her granddaughter’s
great-grandmother died recently. The child’s mother tried
to explain to her four-year-old daughter what happened. Because
the great-grandmother was an avid gardener and liked flowers, the
child’s mother explained that God needed someone to do gardening in heaven.
Unfortunately, the child’s mother made heaven sound so good that the four-year-old child now wants to die and go to heaven so that she can color for God.
How can the mother now explain that God wants this child to live life to the
fullest, serving God and others here on earth? Can you recommend a book to
help the child’s mother explain life and death to a child?
A: I do not have a title to recommend, but if you go to www.fernside.org, you will find a center dedicated to helping
grieving children. Their resource links should be helpful.
If you do not find what you need, please use their “Contact Us” button.
Nine years ago, the high school where I taught experienced the deaths
of three students in a car crash. The Fernside Center was very helpful to
our entire school community and has had extensive experience working
with very young children. This Cincinnati-based center may be able to
recommend a resource group near you.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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