Tuesday, August 11, 2009

End of Life Issues

End of Life issues have become politically hot again. Last time, it was Terri Schiavo's sad case. This time it is Section 1322 of one of the Health Care Reform bills that permits doctors to bill Medicare once every five years for a consultation with a patient on end of life issues, including living wills, durable powers of attorney, dnr orders etc. Much of this discussion is outright lies and opportunism, willfully leaping from that relatively prosaic issue to the issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

But there is a religious dimension to these discussions. Some Pentecostalists believe that to discuss end of life issues at all is to deny the power of God to work a miracle and heal even the most mortally ill person. And, according to their faith, God does not arbitrarily heal some and allow most to die, but is guided by the purity of the faith of those praying for the miracle. To entertain the slightest doubt that God can and will save your loved one from death demonstrates the lack of faith that condemns your loved one to death. For the believer who prays by the bed of a loved one approaching death, you still can hope for a full complete and miraculous recovery IF you are successful in pushing out of your mind any thought that death is inevitable, or is a welcome relief to suffering, or even the working of God's will.

Within such a faith construct, to have a matter-of-fact discussion of end of life issues is to renounce a vital element of one's faith.

I was confronted with faith while working as a hospital chaplain in Dallas, Texas, among both African American and Anglo Protestants. Less so among Roman Catholics.

What struck me though was how things changed once the patient died. "Thy will be done." As much as believers fervently prayed for a miracle before death, they accepted that God had not chosen to save their loved one at the moment of death. "Thy Will Be Done." "God wanted her more than we did." etc.

Such a faith stance is not held by every Pentecostalist, of course. Who knows how many? But I think enough do that any discussion of end of life issues will always strike a nerve, and generate a reaction, which can be picked up on by opportunistic organizers.

People are entitled to their religious views; they just cannot expect that the state will institutionalize their views.