By Michael S. Arlein, information on how different religions handle end-of-life decisions
Michael S. Arlein is a second-year student at Harvard Law School and a law
clerk with Margolis & Cohen in Boston. Last summer he was a summer associate at
Choate, Hall & Stewart in Boston.
Many clients wish to be guided by their religions when making health care and
end-of-life decisions. Most of the major religious organizations in the United States have
published official statements to guide their members regarding living wills, health care
proxies, and other issues relating to end-of-life planning. The following list describes
what is available from each denomination and how to obtain it:
The Health Care Proxy Bill: A Catholic Guide, The Massachusetts Catholic
The Massachusetts Catholic Conference developed this document to explain the
fundamental principles involved in drafting a health care proxy and living will and
"to provide a recommended instrument acceptable to both church and state."
To obtain a copy, call (617) 574-0771. The document is free.
NOTE: Catholic groups in other states may also have similar literature available.
Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints
The Mormons have not published standardized forms for living wills or health care
proxies. However, several official proclamations on related topics are available,
including prolonging life and euthanasia. To obtain free copies, call the church’s
public affairs department at (801) 240-2205.
Rabbi Aaron L. Mackler, ed., Jewish Medical Directives for Health Care, The
Rabbinical Assembly, 1994.
This booklet contains forms for a health care proxy and living will which conform to
the teachings of Conservative Judaism. It presents two differing positions put forward by
Rabbis Avram Israel Reisner and Elliot N. Dorff, both approved by the Conservative
movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.
To obtain a copy, write to the United Synagogue Book Service, 155 Fifth Avenue, New
York, NY 10010. The cost is $4.00.
For other publications, visit the United Synagogue’s web site at http://www.uscj.org.
The Episcopal Church has not published standardized forms for living wills or health
care proxies. The church’s official position on living wills is stated in Resolution
C008, entitled "Care of the Terminally Ill," passed at the 1991 General
Convention. A copy of the resolution can be obtained from the Office of Government
Relations by calling (800) 228-0515.
For a Muslim perspective on refusing medical treatment, go to http://www.islam-qa.com and search for "Ruling on
The Orthodox Union has numerous forms available on the web, including living wills and
health care proxies customized to conform to both Jewish law and state law. The web
address is http://www.jlaw.com/forms/. The forms
Also visit the Orthodox Union’s main web site at http://www.ou.org.
Christian Faith and Life Area, Congregational Ministries Division, In Life and Death
We Belong to God, Presbyterian Publishing Corp., 1995.
This booklet is a study guide designed to examine "the theological issues that
emerge from a consideration of the public debate of euthanasia and assisted suicide."
An appendix contains a sample health care proxy and living will. To obtain a copy, contact
the Presbyterian Distribution Services at (800) 524-2612 or write to 100 Witherspoon St.,
Louisville, KY 40202-1386. The cost is $7.50.
Also note that the church passed Overture 98-50 at the 1998 General Assembly which
addresses end-of-life planning issues. A copy of the resolution is available on the web at
Rabbi Richard F. Address, ed., A Time to Prepare, New York: UAHC Press, 1994.
This booklet is "a practical guide for individuals and families in determining
one’s wishes for extraordinary medical treatment and financial arrangements." It
contains various detachable forms to be used for end-of-life planning, including:
instructions to the rabbi and funeral director, location of documents and personal
property, and sample living will, organ donation form, and health care proxy.
To obtain a copy, call (800) 368-1090 or write to Rabbi Richard F. Address, Director,
UAHC Committee on Bio-Ethics, 1511 Walnut Street, Suite 401, Philadelphia, PA 19102. The
cost is $6.95.
For other publications, visit the Union of American Hebrew Congregation’s
web site at http://uahcweb.org.
United Church of Christ
Rev. Julie Ruth Harley, ed., Making End-Of-Life Decisions, UCC Council for
Health and Human Service Ministries, 1997.
This booklet is a study guide that seeks to address "specific moral issues at the
end of life" and covers a diversity of topics, including overcoming the fear of
dying, living wills and health care proxies, and making health care decisions for others.
Also included are relevant church resolutions, a glossary of terms, and a bibliography of
other available resources.
To obtain a copy, contact the office of Rev. Bryan Sickbert, Director of the Council
for Health and Human Service Ministries by calling (216) 736-2250 or writing to 700
Prospect Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115. The cost is $4.00.
United Methodist Church
The United Methodist Church has not published a standardized form for living wills or
health care proxies. For an official statement of the church’s teachings on death and
dying, see "Understanding Living and Dying as Faithful Christians," adopted by
the General Board of Church and Society in 1992.
For a free copy of this statement, contact the General Board of Church and Society by
calling (202) 488-5600 or writing to 100 Maryland Ave., NE, Washington D.C. 20002.