This morning I’m watching the sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico for the third morning straight. As I reflect on being here at South Padre Island I have some thoughts I’d like to share with you in my blog this week. Deb and I came to South Padre to visit my sister who is dying with throat cancer. She has made a conscious decision not to pursue any further medical procedures other than pain management and a holistic diet approach. Some people are upset with my sister for making this decision but her decision is certainly understandable given her physical condition and past experiences with medical service providers. Most of all it is her choice and right when to decide to stop medical treatments.
But her decision does raise some interesting points about end of life decisions. You see, the business of dying in America is big business. Often extreme measures are taken to keep people alive even after all options are exhausted. For my sister who is extremely frail and on disability with COPD to continue with chemo or with 8 weeks of radiation, well it just doesn’t make sense. In fact, when I found she had started chemo back in April, it was then I decided I needed to see her as quickly as possible. I believe if she had stayed with the chemo it would have shortened her life. It seems to me that often the treatment is worse than the illness and can in fact shorten life expectancy. Even the doctor who recommended my sister should receive 8 weeks of radiation, 5 days a week with accompanying feeding tubes must have had his head in the sand. For my sister, Mary Anne, it’s a quality of life decision or should I say a quality of dying decision.
Back into the fall of 2000 the chairman of the deacon board at Twining Baptist Church was diagnosed with throat cancer. Fred had surgery and spent the next 3 months in the hospital. That was followed by months of radiation, which resulted in his losing his voice and his not being able to eat. But by April of 2001 Fred stood before our church family to announce he was now cancer free. Yet within 2 months Fred would go home to be with Jesus. I walked with Fred through those last tortured 9 months of his life. I’m not sure the extensive medical procedures added one day to his life but someone paid for the whole process. My sister has chosen a different course of action.
Let me state one point here that I need to make perfectly clear. I am not saying we shouldn’t use every means available to help people recover. Especially when there are young children in the family every means should be used to prolong life. I also believe God can perform miracles in the most unlikely of circumstances and bring healing. So in that sense, no situation is hopeless. Nor do I in any way advocate the position of “Doctor Death” Jack Kevorkian who believed in hastening the dying process with his death machine. But the medical profession has so affected our view of death that we have forgotten the fact that death is a reality for all of us. There is a 100% certainty that you and I will die if Jesus doesn’t come back in our life time. 100% no matter what medical advances occur.
So what is our best response when people are making end of life decisions? Well first, we must remember and remind our friends who are in Christ (including my sister), that death is not the ultimate victor. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians in the 15th chapter “For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory”. To know that this life is not all there really is should a source of blessing and encouragement to our loved ones. Then to make our loved one as comfortable as possible whatever choice they make. For my sister Mary Anne it means helping her do something she’s always wanted to do but never had the chance to do. Some years ago Tim McGraw wrote a song “Live Like You Were Dying”. It was a song about his dad, Tug McGraw, who lost his fight with a fatal brain tumor. One of the lines was “to spend more time in the Good Book”. Well spending more time in the “good book,” the Bible, is never a bad idea. We need to daily be in God’s Word not just to prepare to die but to help us live every day. As we see loved ones around us preparing to go into eternity let’s make sure we are doing all we can to share the love of Christ with them and to be Jesus’s feet and arms to reach out with His love and care as they pursue treatment or prepare to enter God’s presence.
All for Christ,
Pastor Rich Sivo