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Ordinary Treatment Must Be Accepted
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

May I Stop Dialysis?
My Daughter Resents God
Did Adam and Eve’s Children Marry One Another?
Which Lectionary Readings?
Helping a Four-Year-Old Deal With Death



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 suicide?

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’ decisions? 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 course.

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 be met.”

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 possible.

In fact, children often feel that somehow the divorce was their fault. That may be an unacknowledged part of her feelings, affecting her relationship with God.

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 retardation.

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 family.

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 Time.

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. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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