care of the dying

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The spiritual care of the dying has always been a central concern of the Church; it has long made provision for reconciliation through Penance and for sacramental anointing (see unction) and for the administration of Communion to those facing death (see Viaticum). The physical care of the sick and dying was one of the activities of the religious orders. In the W., the care of the sick largely passed to secular institutions. It was partly in reaction to the limitations of such care, in which the main thrust is towards prolonging life, that the modern hospice movement developed. This is based on the view that by the proper control of physical pain and distressing symptoms, dying patients are enabled to value and find meaning in what remains of life and perhaps accept death when it becomes inevitable. St Christopher's Hospice in South London opened in 1967; it has had international influence through the founding of other hospices and through the incorporation of the principles of hospice care into medical practice.

In modern times there has also been increased advocacy of so-called euthanasia, a term now used to denote the termination of life on humanitarian grounds, as in the case of incurable illness. Like suicide, it is incompatible with a proper respect for the sacredness of human life. Christian moralists regard it as illicit, though there is said to be no obligation to pursue burdensome or extraordinary measures to preserve life. Euthanasia was condemned by the RC Church in 1940, 1980, and 1995, and by the General Synod of the C of E in 1976. Various bills to authorize it in Britain have been defeated. While not legalizing euthanasia as such, the state of California in the USA in 1976 permitted terminally ill patients there to authorize, by prior directive, the withholding of life-sustaining procedures when death is believed to be imminent. In the Netherlands, under strictly limited conditions, euthanasia became legal in 2001.

Subjects: Christianity.

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