by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
November 2005

This month’s column looks at several issues and developments.

Last month I wrote about the wisdom of appointing a health care agent to make health care decisions for you if you cannot make or communicate those decisions yourself. The North Dakota Catholic Conference now has a health care directive form for use by the state’s Catholics.

The form meets the requirements of North Dakota law and incorporates Catholic concerns regarding ethical decision-making and spiritual issues. The form also reflects practical advice church, health care, and community leaders have shared with us. The form, for example, starts with the option of appointing a health care agent, since that is the preferred method.

You may also come across a “statutory form” and information resource developed by a coalition of organizations that have worked to improve the use of health care directives in the state. Catholics can look at this “non-sectarian” information as an additional resource. No one is legally obligated to use the statutory form for a health care directive. Catholics in the state are encouraged to consider using the form prepared by the North Dakota Catholic Conference. However, the statutory form includes some open-ended questions that might be useful for discussion purposes.

Anyone can get the Catholic health care directive materials by downloading them at or by calling the North Dakota Catholic Conference at 1-888-419-1237.


Wake Forest University sociology professor, David Yamane, has written a book on the work of state Catholic conferences. People interested in how the Church engages in public policy questions at the state level, should read this book. Currently in the United States, state governments, rather than just the federal government, address most of the public policy issues of concern to the Church. Yamane’s book, however, is the only recent serious study of the activities of state Catholic conferences.

The book,
The Catholic Church in State Politics: Negotiating Prophetic Demands & Political Realities is published by Rowman & Littlefield and is available through most on-line bookstores.


The federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes North Dakota, will hear arguments in a case involving Nebraska’s definition of marriage. A lower court struck down Nebraska’s constitutional amendment, contending that it violated the U.S. Constitution. North Dakota’s constitutional language on the issue is different, but an adverse ruling could impact our state’s law.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference joined the Nebraska Catholic Conference and all the other state Catholic conferences and dioceses in the Eighth Circuit to file an
amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in support of Nebraska’s appeal of the lower court decision. One of the issues on appeal is whether the state has a legitimate interest in defining marriage as between a man and a woman and preventing “quasi-marriages” through another name. The amicus brief explains the state’s interest this way:

Marriage, by its nature, is an institution derived from the complimentarity of the sexes that exists when one man and one woman commit themselves, before the community, to each other and the possibility of children. Because the institution is rooted in the community and serves as the basis of the family, it is an essential component of the common good. The State has legitimate, indeed compelling, interests in ensuring a stable legal and societal framework for the creation of healthy families, providing a suitable environment for the development of children and in promoting social investment in the community. In light of these interests, the State may seek to safeguard the institution of marriage from being undermined or its functions compromised by same-sex marriages or same-sex, quasi-marital legal relationships such as civil unions and domestic partnerships.

A year after North Dakota voters overwhelmingly approved its constitutional definition of marriage, there are some who still think that the measure was based in hostility toward homosexuals or rooted solely in religious dogma. The above statement, which reflects Catholic social teaching on the matter, convincingly demonstrates that this is not the case.

Incidentally, several states also filed an
amicus brief in support of Nebraska’s position. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem signed on to that brief on behalf of North Dakota.