“A Study of Accompaniment at the End of Life” by Deacon Michael Brungardt published in National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Posted on March 15, 2018

An article by Deacon Michael Brungardt, a seminarian from the Diocese of Wichita, has been published in the most recent issue of the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, a publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, PA. According to their website, the journal “addresses the ethical, philosophical, and theological questions raised by the rapid pace of modern medical and technological progress.”

“Really, I have to thank many of the professors here at Mundelein before I can take too much credit,” Brungardt remarked. “Most especially Fr. Ray Webb, who encouraged me to send some of my writing out for consideration for publication. Also, Dr. Melanie Barrett, Fr. Scott Hebden, and many others who helped me to wrap my head around the questions I address and to start asking the big questions in the first place.”

When asked where his interest in the field of bioethics came from, Brungardt pointed to his father. “When I was younger, I wanted to be just like my dad.” Brungardt’s father, Dr. Gerard Brungardt is a physician in Wichita and holds a licentiate degree in bioethics (Be.L.) from the Pontifical Athanaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. “I remember from a young age wanting to be a doctor and a bioethicist, just like him. Although the doctor part had to be put aside when I entered seminary, I still had an interest in bioethics and so I did a lot of studying and reading on my own.”

Brungardt’s article, “A Study of Accompaniment at the End of Life,” stems from his study of the “Right to Death” and “Death with Dignity” movements both in the United State and abroad which advocate for the right of terminally-ill adults to request and receive a prescription medication which hastens their death.

“When you look at the statistics, for example those published by the Oregon Health Authority,” Brungardt says, “the vast majority of people who seek to hasten their death in this way cite ‘loss of autonomy’ and ‘loss of dignity’ as their greatest concern at the end of life.” Yet, as he continued and argues in his article, “These are really just at the surface of something going on much deeper within the person.”

As he argues throughout the article, “The person who is dying is faced with questions which, for a many of us, we haven’t faced before; big questions, the ultimate questions really. And when we’re dying, these questions are exacerbated. They are at the core of the fear and anxiety the dying person is experiencing. And when there is an option to hasten your death to avoid these questions, that can be a very enticing option; that’s how powerful they are.”

Brungardt commented that, even though his article only specifically addresses the issue in the case of the terminally ill, the principles and reasoning could be applied to many other situations. “A band I listen to has a song that talks about someone getting their car radio stolen,” Brungardt said, “and how having to drive around in silence has forced them to confront the questions they had been drowning out. It’s a song about being confronted by the question which are no longer being drowned out, and just how much fear and anxiety they can cause, even to the point of wanting to end it all. It’s not only death that forces us to face reality, sometimes reality itself forces us to confront it. And when that happens, it’s the people around us that are going to make the difference. Are they going to tell us that ending it all is ‘ok,’ or are they going to face this with us?”

In both cases, Brungardt concluded, people need someone to suffer with them, to enter into their suffering with them, to not be afraid to face these questions with them. “Really, it’s about participating in Christ’s act of redemption. Christ entered into our human condition, he entered into it to its very depths, even to the point of death. We can enter into the fear and anxiety with the person who is dying, truly enter into it. That’s what true loving accompaniment looks like.”

Deacon Brungardt’s article can be found at https://www.pdcnet.org/collection/browse?fp=ncbq#.Wq0kpmUMD88.mailto