An End of Life Example

The nursing wing of a convent in Rochester, New York is giving us much to think about in terms of end of life decisions. Most of the sisters there face death openly by refusing certain type of treatments when those treatments would not necessarily improve their condition. “We approach our living and our dying in the same way, with discernment,” the congregation’s president says. Because a convent is a specialized environment, some of its conditions cannot always be replicated in the world at large. Still, the Sisters of St. Joseph can be an example since studies have shown many of the factors involved contribute to “successful aging and a gentle death.” These include, a social network, intellectual stimulation, continued engagement in life, spiritual beliefs, and health care that is guided by palliative care principles.
Some of the sisters do struggle and request surgeries which will not really help, but most in the nursing wing accept death with openness. “It’s much easier to guide people to better choices here than in a hospital,” says the doctor who treats the sisters, “and you don’t get a lot of pushback when you suggest that more treatment is not better treatment.”
Perhaps as these ideas continue to move from the fringe to the mainstream, the sisters’s example will be routine for more and more people.