Radio Show

A Catholic Perspective on Palliative Care


Jack Levison, chair of Old Testament interpretation at Perkins School of Theology, and Dr. Robert Fine, a palliative care physician, stop by the show to discuss the spirituality of end-of-life care and what ancient texts can teach us about pain and suffering.

Dr. Fine explains how he became interested in end-of-life care: “The case of Karen Ann Quinlan was going on while I was in medical school,” he said. “She was the first so-called right-to-die case in modern American medicine. She had a respiratory arrest and underwent resuscitation. It was successful in terms of getting her heart and lungs to work again, but her brain was irreversibly injured and left her in a vegetative state. … Her parents said, ‘We would like to stop treatment.’ And everyone said, ‘No.’ Her case eventually went to the courts, which made important rulings about who makes end-of-life decisions, and it got me very interested in this field.”

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Father Dave discusses the difference between hospice care and palliative care with Dr. Fine. “Palliative care is serious illness care, and it is focused on treating the total pain of the seriously ill patient,” Dr. Fine says. “That’s the physical pain and other physical symptoms, but it’s also the emotional, social, and spiritual suffering that goes along with that. It is appropriate at any stage of a serious illness. … At some point for a palliative care patient, if a cure does not happen, then they can transition into hospice care. Which also treats total pain, but in hospice care, the patient is no longer taking what we call disease-modifying treatments.”

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Father Dave then asks Jack Levison to explain the spiritual aspect of palliative care. He says that people suffering begin to ask questions such as, “Why me?” and asks how our faith relates to these experiences. Levison responds, “Dr. Fine and I were reading the Psalms together, and I thought, doctors have a vocabulary for diagnosing me, but my vocabulary is, ‘My eyes hurt, my bones are heavy.’ This is the vocabulary of the Psalms. The Psalms are the patient’s way of experiencing and expressing pain, not the doctors, and that’s what makes them so valuable.” (Original Air 5-15-18)