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Rev. Dr. Martha R. Jacobs

Rev. Dr. Martha R. Jacobs

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How Would God Have Us Love Ailing Relatives?

Posted: 04/28/11 12:00 AM ET

In my last several postings, there have been those who have chosen to look only at the "religious" aspects of my posting. As several blogger/responders pointed out, that was not and is not why I am writing this blog. Yes, I am writing from a Christian perspective, and those who don't believe in Jesus Christ, or in a God at all, are free to not read this column since doing so seems to irritate you and, more importantly, moves us off of the point of my postings.

This blog is not about whether God or Jesus or Allah or Buddha or any other existential belief system exists. This blog is about how Christians can and perhaps should look at end of life issues. So, when you read my column, know that you are going to be reading about Jesus and God and end of life issues. If that is anathema to you, then please don't waste your time or the time of those who want to engage these issues as they relate to being a Christian. I welcome your comments on the issues presented and hope you that will write/comment about those parts of my postings.

Here are two true scenarios for your consideration:

A 65-year-old woman (your wife, mother, sister) learns that she has advanced liver cancer. In a matter of a few weeks she loses consciousness and needs a respirator to help her breathe. While she had discussed her wishes regarding end of life care with her family, nothing has been put in writing. After she becomes comatose, family members argue about what she really wanted instead of peacefully sharing her remaining days with her. Because she did not designate anyone to be her health care proxy, a surrogate decision maker is named, based on an order established by law (legal guardian of the person, spouse, any adult child(ren), either parent, any adult brother or sister, any adult grandchild(ren), a close friend or guardian of the estate). Some family members believe that this surrogate is not the one that she would have chosen had she signed a proxy form. There is nothing that can be done to change this, without going to court and trying to convince a judge that this person does not have her best interests at heart which is not an easy thing to do. The family continues to fight, as she dies.

Scenario two:

An 83-year old man (your husband, father, brother) suffers a massive stroke in the middle of the night. He is revived, intubated (a tube is put down his throat to enable him to breathe) by the emergency medical technicians and taken to the hospital. The family arrives early in the morning with a health care proxy form (aka durable power of attorney for health care) designating the daughter as the one responsible for making the patient's medical decisions now that he is incapable of making them for himself. The patient has specified on his proxy form that he does not want artificial nutrition and hydration or other extraordinary measures used to keep him alive if there is not a reasonable expectation that he will be able to resume the level of functioning that he had before the stroke. When a test reveals that he has suffered major brain damage from the stroke and will not be able to live without mechanical support, the patient is removed from life support at the proxy's request. The family stays with their loved one, talking with him and holding him as the natural course of his body shutting down takes over, and he dies.

Margaret Mohrmann, MD, PhD, in her book, Medicine as Ministry: Reflections on Suffering, Ethics and Hope, writes that when faced with what is happening to a loved one who is suffering or dying, we need to ask this question: How would God have us love her here and now? How would our decisions for our loved one reflect how God looks at us -- who we are, how we have lived our life and to make decisions based on the "whole of [one's] life"? Because our stories are different, honoring the life of someone "may require something very different from honoring" one's own life.

How would God have had us love and honor these two people? How would you love and honor these two people if they were your loved ones? How would you want others to love and honor you, were you the patient?