The Church And The Cost/Benefit Of Not Dying.
In the Sunday New York Times recently there was an article by Daniel Callahan titled, “On Dying After Your Time”. It was a reflection on the commanding health difficulties that confront older adults these days and the cost to our country of repairing those medical problems of older adults. Dr. Callahan painted a significant struggle (1) between issues of quantity vs. quality of life for us older adults and (2) between more taxes to cover our needed medical care vs. reduced medical care for us older adults who need those treatments.
These issues are not the stuff of abstract philosophical banter. They are real, and they are here right now. Perhaps I read Dr. Callahan’s words carefully because a friend of mine whose life quality has been greatly reduced after of the loss of his wife of 50 years and facing an increasingly debilitating illness, recently made a personal decision to stop his dialysis treatment -- and consequently he died a week ago.
Was he doing his part to alleviate the need for more taxes? Is that the way we should think about his decision?
How can we older adults come to grips with these quality of life vs. quantity of life decisions and how can all of us humans make decisions about the necessity of increased taxation vs. abandonment of some older adults with medical needs?
I argue that we can’t make those decisions thoughtfully by ourselves. Issues like this are not typically a matter of logic or facts. They are not about long time beliefs. These significant decisions are far too important to leave to our habits of thinking or some sort of numbers on a chart or readings on a graph.
Decisions that affect our (your) life and death and whether or not our country should lend support for those decisions from our tax resources, call for conversations with people who bring to the table a potential diversity of ideas and choices. Best would seem to be those friends and others whose beliefs and basic values of goodness are those you can respect because of their integrity and broad-minded understanding when facing new situations.
An example is the issue of palliative care -- “90% of the visits of older adults to the emergency rooms are for distressing symptoms like pain, shortness of breath and fatigue that can accompany chronic illnesses”, according to Dr. Meier, a palliative care specialist at Mt. Sinai hospital, who went on to say, “These symptoms can and should be prevented or managed by palliative care specialists in a patient’s own home [at far less cost]. Patients turn to hospitals for care because they have no alternatives.”*
*The Treatment That Respects Pain, by Jane Brody, New York Times, D7 Dec. 3, 2013
Yes, we can read about new medical regimes, but it is in discussions about alternative ways of understanding life -- with others we respect -- that are more likely to change our ways of thinking and behaving. Thereby not only helping stem the upward spiral of medical costs, but increasing the quality of life for all of us as we age.
My question is, “Can the church be a national leader in reframing the way we human’s think about life on earth as well as in the hereafter”? Science has rejected centuries of thinking about the mind and the body as separate parts of the whole. Why can’t the church argue that the spirit and holistic human understanding are one and the same? Then, perhaps within the understanding of the importance of talking about spirituality and telling the stories of religion’s role in our life, we can see it as our responsibility to also talk about the human community -- because mind, body and spirit are all related.