As the Dec. 3 editorial "The Salvation of St. Joseph" noted, citizens must be vigilant about health care restrictions at Catholic-run hospitals. Catholic hospitals enforce religious directives that can interfere with patient decision-making in unpredictable and sometimes devastating ways.

Maryland residents working to establish the state's Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) program, for example, need to learn the local bishop's view of POLST because his view will apply at St. Joseph. Recently, Wisconsin bishops included withholding and withdrawing medical treatment in their definition of "euthanasia," thwarting a voluntary effort by the state medical society to promote the use of POLST. The bishops' blurring of the line between lawful end-of-life care and illegal euthanasia denied dying patients the right to make medical choices based on their personal needs and beliefs.

Allowing people to make decisions about their own lives — and honoring those decisions — is a most basic form of respect. If a patient's medical care choices clearly indicate a desire not to be kept alive by extreme means, no religious or governmental body should apply painful and invasive treatment against his or her wishes.

Barbara Coombs Lee, Portland, Ore.

The writer is president of Compassion & Choices.

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