Hot Issues

USCCB Comments on Medicare’s Proposed Rule on Advance Care Planning

usccbThe U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) submitted comments on September 4 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The comments relate to a Proposed Rule to incorporate end-of-life decision making or “Advance Care Planning” into the Medicare program.

The comments filed today by Anthony Picarello, USCCB general counsel, and Michael Moses, associate general counsel, note that while the Catholic Church does not object to encouraging patients to consider future treatment decisions in case they may become unable to communicate their wishes, “the current open-ended proposal has several deficiencies that merit attention before a final rule is considered.”

Picarello and Moses note that “the Church has a long and rich tradition on the parameters for such decision making, providing concepts and distinctions that have long played an important role in secular medical ethics as well.”   They add that “Catholic dioceses and other organizations have actively participated in the nationwide debate on end-of-life decision making and on the pros and cons of various ‘advance directives’.”  They explain that while such directives constitute one approach to advance care planning, they are not the only way, and some documents ignore important ethical distinctions and may be biased toward withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment.

The comment letter also reviews “important statutory guidance on this issue” found in the Patient Self-Determination Act, the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act, and the Affordable Care Act, stating that the safeguards in these laws are not currently reflected in the proposed rule or its preamble.

The USCCB provides the following recommendations for any final rule or published guidance that encourage “advance care planning”:

  • Acknowledge the full range of advance care planning options, including those which rely on discussion and collaboration among family members instead of on pre-packaged documents that may be biased toward withdrawal of treatment;
  • Caution patients about the need to read any document carefully before signing it, to ensure that it fully protects the individual patient’s well-being and values, and inform them that additional resources may be available from their religious denomination or other sources of moral guidance;
  • Completely exclude counseling and documents that present lethal actions such as assisted suicide or euthanasia as treatment options;
  • Treat the counseling session as an opportunity for suicide prevention;
  • Reflect current law’s commitment to an “equality of life” standard that upholds life with a disability or permanent impairment as having inherent worth.

The comment letter is available here.

Urge Congress to Reauthorize the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom

uscapitolflagThe Catholic Church views protection of religious freedom as a “cornerstone of the structure of human rights” since it is rooted in the dignity of the human person. USCCB worked with other faith-based groups and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to pass the landmark 1988 International Religious freedom Act (IRFA). IRFA created the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Department of State and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.  USCIRF uses international standards to monitor religious freedom violations globally, and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.  USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and Congressional leaders of both political parties.  Their work is supported by a professional, nonpartisan staff.  USCIRF has a proven track record of promoting human dignity and human rights around the world by monitoring and promoting religious freedom.

USCIRF is due to expire this September 30th unless legislation is passed for its reauthorization.  Reauthorization of USCIRF is of critical importance to a wide range of U.S. religious believers/voters, U.S. and overseas NGO’s, and to religious communities and governments all over the world. This is not a Democrat or Republic issue or a concern of only a few Members. This is not a concern of only Christians or of the religious faiths most popular in the US. It is a bipartisan issue of concern to all US religious communities because around the world Bahia’s, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and members of newer and less numerous religions all experience persecution and discrimination in various countries.

Failure to reauthorize USCIRF will send a tremendously negative message to the international community. It will tell the worst offenders that our government is no longer truly interested in fighting for religious freedom and basic human rights of religious believers in their countries. If this happens, religious believers will be killed, jailed, and tortured.

Given the Church’s ongoing concern over the plight of Christians and other religious minorities, we strongly support a bipartisan bill to reauthorize USCIRF. We share the concerns of Pope Francis, “In today’s world, religious freedom is more often affirmed than put into practice.” Defending religious liberty “guarantees the growth and development of the entire community.” Please encourage Congress to lend their support for reauthorization.

See Bishop Oscar Cantu’s August 26, 2015 letter to Congress encouraging legislation for the reauthorization of USCIRF, in which he wrote, “Protecting religious freedom is critical to the health of societies.” 

Write your Members of Congress now!

PCN Tour of Saint Mary’s Home of Erie

The Virgin Mary prepares for her close up.

The Virgin Mary prepares for her close up.

Did you miss it? Watch the episode here.

The Sisters of Saint Joseph have provided care to elderly people in need in the Erie region for more than 130 years. Learn about their history and take a tour of the modern long-term care facility at Saint Mary’s Home of Erie and state-of-the art Alzheimer’s nursing care at the Gallagher Center.

Saint Mary’s Home of Erie is one many members of the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association continuing the healing ministry of Jesus Christ, begun over 2,000 years ago in Galilee. This ministry is carried out by hundreds of highly qualified health care professionals and caregivers in award winning hospitals, nursing facilities, hospices, related health care organizations and residences across the Commonwealth.

Catholic health care in Pennsylvania plays a vital role in caring for our citizens, ministering especially to the poor, uninsured and vulnerable. The PCHA and its members give witness to gospel values in public affairs in Pennsylvania.

Over 3 million Pennsylvanians are assisted at Catholic hospitals each year, and hundreds of thousands more are helped at homes for the aged, health care centers, social service centers and other facilities.

Tune in to the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) at 5:30 p.m., Sunday, September 6, 2015. Check your local listing on the PCN website.

St. Anthony School Educates Students with Disabilities in Pittsburgh

St. Anthony School Program (2)For over sixty years, St. Anthony School Programs‘ faith-based education has helped both Catholic and non-Catholic students with intellectual disabilities live their lives to the fullest academically, socially, vocationally and spiritually.

St. Anthony School Programs, affiliated with the Diocese of Pittsburgh, is an inclusive Catholic special education environment for children ages 5-21 with Down Syndrome, Autism, Aspergers and other Intellectual Disabilities.

“St. Anthony School Programs is built on kindness, understanding and growth of spirit. The students experience a faith-filled and caring environment. St. Anthony’s has provided services for thousands of families for over 60 years,” said Mark Sieg, Executive Director of School Programs.

With programs in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Washington Counties, the school serves more than 110 students a year in its faith-based education program. Ninety percent of St. Anthony’s alumni are working as productive members of the community.

One of the many impressive and unique programs offered at St. Anthony’s is the Post-Secondary Program at Duquesne University, with additional training sites at both The University of Pittsburgh and Carlow University. Typically students graduate from high school after grade 12 and go on to college, while special education students remain in the high-school environment until the age of 21. St. Anthony’s Post-Secondary Program responds to the limits of inclusion that are caused by this discrepancy by providing an advanced vocational program within a university environment.

St. Anthony’s offers an academic curriculum, vocational training, spiritual and social development, life and motor skills, behavioral support, and speech and language therapy to students. With the help of The Diocese of Pittsburgh and generous donors and staff, the school is able to individualize lesson plans and activities so each student is receiving all the services they need.

St. Anthony’s is one of the many special education programs offered across the state of Pennsylvania by Catholic schools. For more information about St. Anthony School Programs and scholarship opportunities, visit their website or Facebook page.

In Pennsylvania: Catholic Health Care Services

pcn main logoThis month the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) will feature tours of several member facilities of the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association (PCHA). Filmed on location, the tours highlight the Gospel mission of Catholic health care and showcase the good work being done for people in need in communities all over Pennsylvania. Tune in and check it out!

Sunday, September 6, 2015 – 5:30 p.m.: Saint Mary’s Home of Erie – Erie, Pennsylvania Watch the video here.

Sunday, September 13, 2015 – 5:30 p.m.: Garvey Manor & Our Lady of the Alleghenies Residence – Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania Watch the video here.

Sunday, September 20, 2015 – 5:30 p.m.: St. Mary Family Resource Center – Bensalem, Pennsylvania Watch the video here.

Check your local listing on the PCN website

Care for God’s Creation

September 1 is the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Pope Francis urges us to see this as “a precious opportunity to renew our personal participation in this vocation as custodians of creation, raising to God our thanks for the marvelous works that He has entrusted to our care, invoking his help for the protection of creation and his mercy for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released “Care for God’s Creation,” the first of a seven-part video series on Catholic Social Teaching, the body of moral and social thought central to the Catholic faith. The release comes in conjunction with Care for Creation day. Watch the video here:

PA Budget Impasse Remains

statecapitolThe stalemate over Pennsylvania’s 2015-2016 spending plan remains after an attempt to release funding for a series of budget line items fell short of the necessary votes this week.

The fiscal year ended on June 30, 2015. A budget was passed by the General Assembly, but vetoed entirely by Governor Tom Wolf. No funds can be appropriated until an agreement is reached between the administration and the legislature.

Now that school is in session and reserves are exhausted, people who benefit from state-funded programs are feeling the pinch. Nonpublic schools do not receive basic education tax dollars, but their students do benefit from line items that pay for textbooks, materials, equipment, and services that support their secular education through the Intermediate Units. The proposal this year finally achieves equity between public and nonpublic students – the line items increase at the same rate, but Catholic school students cannot benefit until the funds are available.

Charities are often the private contractors that provide services for state-funded programs like housing, foster care, or drug and alcohol counseling. As time goes on without a budget agreement, people in need will be turned away.

Our elected officials care how state public policy affects their constituents. Urge them to support legislative proposals that will release the funding for the textbooks, materials, equipment and key services that benefit all Pennsylvania students and urge them to release the funding for programs that provide a lifeline to the poorest and most vulnerable people in need.

School Is In Session: Time to Fund Textbooks, Equipment & Services

TextbookSmileAs Catholic school students across the Commonwealth begin the new school year, instructors are feeling the pinch of the unresolved state budget debate. Nonpublic schools do not receive basic education tax dollars, but their students do benefit from line items that pay for textbooks, materials, equipment, and services that support their secular education through the Intermediate Units. The proposal this year finally achieves equity between public and nonpublic students – the line items increase at the same rate. The Pennsylvania General Assembly is considering measures that would release the funds for some critical programs like these.

Urge your state legislators today to vote yes on the legislative proposals that release the funding for the textbooks, materials, equipment and key services that benefit all Pennsylvania students.

Headed off to College? Don’t Leave Your Faith at Home.

FaithCampusNew laptop or tablet? Check.

Bedding and toiletries? Check.

New clothes and shoes? Check.

Your Catholic faith? …

Thousands of families across the Commonwealth are packing up their college freshmen and taking them to school for the first time. Will these students continue to live out their Catholic faith once they dive into life as an undergraduate?

The Bishops of Pennsylvania wrote to college and university students in Your Catholic Faith on Campus, “During the college years, students often struggle with questions about their faith…The Church encourages you to persevere in searching for the Truth. Know that many Catholics before you have struggled with these same questions and found the Church to be the ‘pillar and bulwark of truth’ (1 Timothy 3:15). We encourage you to be patient, honest, and courageous in your search. Trust that the Lord has provided you with a faith that is rock solid and a Church that is true.”

This personal letter from Bishops to students is a must read for the college student in your life. You can read it here or call (717) 238-9613 to order copies.

Sure, last minute prayers before an exam are pretty commonplace on college campuses.  But the entire Catholic community can offer their support for first time and returning college students by praying for them during this back to school season, asking the Lord to bless them during this time of transition.

Doctor of the Church and prolific writer St. Thomas Aquinas is the patron saint for college students, so join us in saying:

St. Thomas Aquinas, Pray for Them!