My work as a hospital chaplain has brought me to the bedsides of many hurting people from all walks of life. My belief that people are created in the image of God informs my approach and enables me to offer spiritual support to them. As you might guess, sometimes hospital interactions are light-hearted; at other times they are much more serious.
Recently I attended two seminars designed to help medical professionals think through the importance of having “the conversation” with patients and their families. The conversation, of course, is about end-of-life issues. It was pointed out that when speaking to patients, medical personnel often move straight from diagnosis to treatment options, without allotting time to gauge reaction. By moving quickly to treatment options, difficult and uncomfortable questions are avoided. Ultimately, this is neither efficient nor helpful. People who are not allowed the opportunity to discuss their condition will be more likely to misunderstand their treatment options and possible outcomes.
If we are to treat people with the respect they deserve, we must take time to listen to them. This has been my experience has a hospital chaplain. There have been occasions when some active, engaged listening has produced amazing and profound statements such as “I can’t die now because I want to take care of my children” or “I have lived a good life and am ready to die” or any number of other things. Each reflects the patient’s values and ultimately helps the medical team address concerns much more effectively.
We all know the grim truth: we will all die one day, but seem horribly unwilling to talk about it. Valuing human beings as human beings needs to be a central tenet of our ethical approach. Christians might call this the ethic of love. I believe it makes good ethical sense.