End of Life Decisions

I've lived through a couple of "end of life" family decisions. All of the "really right" Christians say "you can't do that." It's not only those who have never lived through watching somebody die in pain - some have, some haven't.I have a hard time coming to a "hard and fast", "black and white", "one-size-fits-all" conclusion - all I can do is tell my story.

I believe that God is sovereign and is in control of our lives and our deaths. I also believe that sometimes God wants us to do something, other times it's okay to make the choice whether or not to do something.

There are a lot of circumstances that could lead to "end of life" decisions. I've been involved in the process of three.

Sometimes all that can be done has been done. Life has been prolonged medically far beyond what would have been natural. The loved one has endured biopsies, surgeries, chemo, radiation. And now they are down to the pain. They want to say the final goodbyes and be gone.

Sometimes there is no reasonable medical hope for survival and the loved one opts for no treatment. Or, in the case of a child, the parents choose to do nothing rather than something. I read a blog a few days ago written by the parents of twins born too soon - just a shade over a pound. Their children died in their arms.

Sometimes we just get lazy or frightened and "jump the gun", and lose out on a part of life that sometimes holds great treasure.

I read Anne Lamott's article and I think "Mel" fell into the third category. His mind was clear and he was able to eat, drink and dress himself. This was not the "end of life", it was part of an illness. But, from what I can get from the article, his medication was no longer doing its job.

There are other stories. My mother-in-law fought breast cancer for 8 years. She died in pain. She was aware enough that she knew when we were at her bedside (we had to drive to another state). When it was time, she slipped away.

My husband also slipped away. Comatose, unaware - he died in his own bed, peacefully. The medicine was very good and there was very little pain.

But that leads us to another question: at what point are we "treating pain" and when does the treatment of pain become "hurrying the process". The medicine that my husband was taking, it slows everything down. Regular use brings death closer.

Does that mean that by treating the pain with that medication, I was (in fact, if not intent) killing him, although more slowly than Lamott killed her friend? What would the difference be?

At what point in this process would I have opened myself up to judgement? When I took the bottle? When I gave the first dose? or the second? Or was it when it wasn't working and he asked for more? Or would it have been if he said, "I just want to go home."

Actually, he did say, "I just want to go home." That was the day that I opened that bottle for the first time. That was the day that he made the choice that he would make the process as quick as possible - not by acting on the medicine, but by refusal to eat or drink.

Does choosing starvation and dehydration make it any less suicide than taking an overdose?

God is sovereign. In the beginning of history, God created man and gave him dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28). This gave man the power responsibility to rule over the earth and everything that moved. Man is steward and sometimes that includes making life and death decisions. God is sovereign, and He put man in charge of living things on earth.

There is another aspect, specifically regarding the end of life decisions after fighting a long illness. If it is solely God's decision when we are going to die, why would we suspect that God would want us to treat the disease in the first place? Either the decision is totally God's and we should not tamper with it in any way - or we must be open to the notion that we have some choices in the matter. If the timing of our death is totally God's sovereign choice, then do we not risk disobedience by prolonging (with treatment) a life that He has brought disease upon?

I am not saying that we should turn our backs on the medical industry. I'm not saying that treating diseases is disobedience to God.

I am saying that this is a situation that may not be as "hard and fast", "black and white", "one-size-fits-all" as we would like it to be.   There is room for grace on both sides.

Read the original article by Anne Lamott.

Read Al Mohler Jr's, take.

HT: Logoscentric.

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2 thoughts on “End of Life Decisions

  1. Wow, Ellen. Incredible post. You handle these hard questions sensitively and with grace. I deeply appreciate your willingness to share your journey through such difficult times. I found myself checking back frequently several weeks ago when you were recounting your husband's last days. Thanks for sharing. Barbara

  2. Thanks, Barbara. If you've poked around here, you know that I don't have a problem speaking out where doctrine is clear -

    but where I believe it isn't so clear, it isn't right to make doctrine so black and white.

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