Originally Appears in Ethics & Medics, a Publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center

Why Family Is Critical to the Care of the Sick

Below is an excerpt from the introduction, to read the article in its entirety, please click here.

The coronavirus pandemic is bringing new and great losses, challenges, and change in our lives, relationships, and social interactions. Amid these, health care institutions, especially hospitals and nursing homes, are extraordinarily tasked with meeting the needs and safety of so many people sick and dying from COVID-19, along with those of their families, the staff, and the public.

One clear and immediate responsibility of health care institutions is to limit contagion. Many infection control strategies have been rapidly reemphasized or introduced, including universal precautions, screening, hand hygiene stations, personal protective equipment (PPE), contained areas and teams, physical distancing, increased cleaning, instructional signage, training, telehealth, reduced nonurgent services, and free parking. These strategies may place an economic and organizational burden on already stretched institutions, but they pose few other risks to persons.

In contrast, the practice adopted by some health care institutions of extreme visitation restrictions, and in some settings banning family completely, poses clearly foreseeable risks to those who are sick, their family, the staff, and society. These risks include destabilization of trust between these institutions and the communities they serve, sick people’s avoidance of hospitals for fear of dying alone, and grave harm to the nature of persons through the marginalization of the intrinsic familial aspect of their being. Other anticipated harms are widespread suffering, guilt, grief, and recrimination lasting long past the time of crisis.

To honor, maintain, and advocate for family connection during the coronavirus pandemic, we briefly outline why family is critical to caring for the sick.

Michael Vacca is the Director of Ministry Bioethics and Membership Experience for Christ Medicus Foundation CURO