Call to Action: Quality of Life

Earlier this month BBC News reported on Chris Graham, a 39-year-old man with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, an extremely rare gene mutation, which killed Chris’ father at 42-years-old. Graham, has a newborn son, to whom he may have passed on the gene mutation, but Graham remains hopeful, saying, “If we can put a man on the Moon then surely we can find a cure for Alzheimer’s?” This story is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

It reminds me of another tragic case of Alzheimer’s in 2012. Charles Snelling, having made a pact with his wife, who had the disease, killed his wife and then himself. Snelling’s wife, Adrienne, no longer wanted to live once the disease progressed to a point where she couldn’t live life as she had known it. In the medical community, the term “quality of life” would come to mind. Throughout the world, there is a widely held notion that life is no longer worth living at a certain point. This can be seen clearly in the recent case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with terminal cancer, who chose to end her life via physician-assisted suicide last year.

For every tragic story like this that makes it into the public eye, there are dozens more people suffering in silence, unknown to the masses. No one likes to talk about something so difficult, so utterly impossible to explain. But instead of ignoring things like Alzheimer’s and those who suffer from it, the medical community has a duty to raise awareness and promote conversation about the idea of “quality of life” decision-making.

Physician-assisted suicide is becoming more and more acceptable, now being legal in several states. It is our responsibility to challenge the status quo and fight for the idea that life is valuable, regardless of its perceived quality. We must love and honor life in all its forms, yet do it in a way that doesn’t result in vitalism.

This is an extremely difficult road to walk, but it is a road we cannot afford to ignore. What do you think are the best ways to approach this topic with sensitivity and grace while upholding the importance of the imago-dei in all humans?

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Dave Linde
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Dave Linde

I’m new to some of this conversation. What does the term “vitalism” mean?

Sarah Sawicki
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Sarah Sawicki

Dave,

That is a great question. Vitalism in the medical field is basically the belief that one must do everything in all circumstances to preserve or prolong human life. So, for a vitalist, it would be wrong to removing artificially administered nutrition and hydration from a terminal patient.

I personally believe this to be inappropriate for many circumstances, so I am trying to find the balance between the two extremes that still values human life as sacred, but does not result in vitalism.

Dave Linde
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Dave Linde

Very helpful. Thanks much.