Reflections from the Front: End-of-Life Care

Reflections from the Front: End-of-Life Care

In the past sixteen months three members of my immediate family have died. Heart Disease, Dementia and Cancer claimed the lives of my father, my mother and my wife. If it were not for the resurrection, we would be totally bereft. As it is, we grieve, “but not as those who have no hope.”

In their last days, with each family member, we made the decision to not pursue all possible treatments at any cost, but instead only reasonable treatments, that would help mitigate pain and suffering, and whose benefits clearly outweighed the likely downsides to treatment. In regard to specific decisions, however, this may be easy to say, but not so easy to do.

Particularly for the Christian who continually prays for God’s miraculous interventional healing, it is tempting to continue to push, based on the possibility that God will intervene “soon”, if we have faith, and don’t give up the fight. Deciding when to transition care from a cure-orientation to a palliative care approach, can, at times, be especially difficult when the patient and the whole family are not at the same place at the same time.  The person who perhaps prophetically realizes that God’s healing may not come on this present earth may be perceived as being less committed, less loving, and less faith-filled. Perhaps; but perhaps they have an insight from the Lord.

Dr. John Dunlop, Internist and Geriatrician, recently wrote an outstanding, yet easy-to-read book– Finishing Well to the Glory of God, (2011, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois,) covering just these issues. I highly recommend his book, which I found personally helpful. I would also recommend the website:

Discussions in the abstract, quoting probabilities of life, death, pain and disability can be almost mathematical. For populations these predictions have been found to be relatively accurate. For the patient or family member directly in front of you, they are much less helpful. When your time comes to deal with these issues as a provider, friend, or family member, I recommend Dr. Dunlop’s book, appropriate, accurate medical data, continuous prayer, and reliance on the Holy Spirit to help you walk through this minefield. I also recommend patience and love for your family circle members who aren’t where you are and a spirit of humility, forgiveness and grace as you make tough decisions.

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chris audinoBob CranstonSteve Phillips Recent comment authors
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Steve Phillips

The interaction between faith in God’s ability to heal miraculously and decisions to limit care is an interesting one. For a Christian who desires not to put limits on what God can do there can be a tendency to feel a need to do everything possible while waiting for God to act. However, that disregards the fact that God’s ability to answer prayers for healing is not limited by anything that we do medically and could involve bringing a person back from the dead if that were what God would choose. It is better to trust God fully to do… Read more »

Bob Cranston
Bob Cranston

Absolutely. Our ICU doctors, not Christians, will say kindly to Christian families demanding everything to be done, beyond reason, that God has already had x amount of time to do the healing, and that God does allow his saints to go on to heaven.

chris audino
chris audino

Bob, your words are indeed from the front. Thank you for sharing with us the realities of end of life ‘issues’ in light of your recent experiences. As you noted, the almost mathematical nature of our discourse on the end of life abstracts us from the pain and struggles involved. To say you have offered a number of insightful reminders would be an understatement. That being said there is one that strikes me the most, it is your mention of faith-challenges: “The person who perhaps prophetically realizes that God’s healing may not come on this present earth may be perceived… Read more »

Bob Cranston
Bob Cranston

Thanks for your kind words, Chris. As you might have surmised, this was something I experienced.