End of Life Ethics and the Christian Worldview: Pt. 1

Posted: January 14, 2014 in Ethics, Uncategorized
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1518549_10201259769042938_27193347_oAs I write this my family is deeply embroiled in a life or death situation with a loved one. The flu, a UTI, then pneumonia, congestive heart failure, ventilation, tracheotomy, and a DNR: a terrible chain of events has spiraled the health of someone we love downward to the brink of death. After an initial rally, she was sent to a step-up facility to get her weaned off of the ventilator. Because her husband had signed a DNR, the doctor in charge of her case at said facility simply wanted to pull her off of the ventilator and let her die. Because of a terrible error by the nurse on duty, she came out of sedation. Ordinarily that would have been tragic, since the terrible shape of her lungs full of pneumonia would have put her in distress. 

What could have been a tragic scene became a very touching and horribly painful conversation between a very ill wife, and a loving husband. I witnessed this conversation unobtrusively, as I slipped into the room, and never made my presence known. I feel guilty for intruding on such a touching and private moment, but I thank God I was a witness to such a moving exchange.

I will not go into the details, but suffice it to say that the husband told the wife of her grave situation. He asked her if she wanted to continue to be kept alive, or whether she was ready to be let go. She indicated she wanted to continue to fight for her life. The husband said he would, but that he would not let her suffer, and would make a hard decision if he had to. She cried. She could not speak, because of the tracheotomy. All she could do was respond to questions. He asked her what she would do if she knew he was suffering. She cried again.

Until that moment, the husband was considering making that hard decision. The doctors and staff were encouraging the removal of the ventilator, to let her pass. They had even removed the diuretic she was on, a clear path to death by congestive heart failure. Evidently in this facility, a signed DNR means “let’s accelerate her demise”. Thanks to a mistake by a nurse in allowing her Diprivan to run out, bringing her out of sedation, the weight of a horrible decision was lessened, the chance to say the things he needed to say, and another opportunity to encourage a loved one to trust in Christ alone, came about.

That’s as much detail as I intend to go into, other than to say that the DNR was rescinded, and she was moved to another hospital, to actually attempt to save her life. This story does not end here. It is still a very grave life or death situation. In the end, her life, as is ours, is in the hands of God.

I intend to start a thread on end-of-life ethics. I find I am thinking a lot about this topic, considering what I have just witnessed. I also find I am quite at a loss to clearly discuss this matter, which means I need to do some serious cogitating. I lack the necessary information to process this. This will serve as my journal of discovery into a subject none of us want to broach, but all must at some point, assuming the Lord doesn’t return first.

May we all grow in Grace as we struggle with issues that can only make us better Christians.

Christian theology, however, offers a unique take on suffering. Christ’s death and resurrection illustrate that suffering can be redemptive, that suffering can have meaning, and that suffering is not necessarily the worst possible thing that befalls human beings. This does not mean that we embrace suffering as an unequivocal good, that we are supposed to seek out suffering, or that there is no place in Christian thought for compassionate relief of suffering. But it does mean that we must avoid the temptation to believe that any activity that alleviates suffering is ethical and good. As Meilaender describes, “We must…always be of two minds about [suffering]. We should try to care for those who suffer, but we should not imagine that suffering can be eliminated from human life or that it can have no point or purpose…Nor should we suppose that suffering must be eliminated by any means that is available to us, for a good end does not justify any and all means…to make elimination of suffering our highest priority would be to conclude mistakenly that it can have no point or purpose in our lives. We should not act as if we believe that the negative, destructive powers of the universe are finally victorious.” 1

1. Dollar, Ellen P. “Christian Ethics 101: What Makes Ethics “Christian”?” Ellen Painter Dollar. Patheos, 26 Sept. 2012. Web. 14 Jan. 2014.

simul iustus et peccator, 

Eric Adams 
Rossville, GA 

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