Mar 18, 2009

If I had a terminal illness...what would I want to do?

Here's an item from today's NY Times

Terminally ill cancer patients who drew comfort from religion were far more likely to seek aggressive, life-prolonging care in the week before they died than were less religious patients and far more likely to want doctors to do everything possible to keep them alive, a study has found.

The patients who were devout were three times as likely as less religious ones to be put on a mechanical ventilator to maintain breathing during the last week of life, and they were less likely to do any advance care planning, like signing a do-not-resuscitate order, preparing a living will or creating a health care proxy, the analysis found.

The study is to be published Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

“People think that spiritual patients are more likely to say their lives are in God’s hands — ’Let what happens happen’ — but in fact we know they want more aggressive care,” said Holly G. Prigerson, the study’s senior author and director of the Center for Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

“To religious people, life is sacred and sanctified,” Dr. Prigerson said, “and there’s a sense they feel it’s their duty and obligation to stay alive as long as possible.”

Read more here

What do we all think here? I am apt to think that I'd opt to die quietly with family and friends around me. But who knows what kind of fears might overwhelm me?

But if we truly do have faith, why worry? If we've lived a good life and have been declared terminal, for what reason would we seek an aggressive "Hail Mary" type of treatment. Is this perhaps another statement of faith? That God can do anything and we trust that God will do what's best and we need to give all that we can to this process?

I've been with a few people during those last few days of life. What I noticed most is that most people often LACK fear. That they almost look forward to their moment of death. These are the people who have a quiet faith and an inner peace and have lived a life in which they are quiet comfortable in their own skin and have given much to others throughout their life.

But I've also been with people who are the polar opposite. People who were filled with great fear. These are people who also may have wanted to hasten death but did so out of fear of suffering. And some who wanted to stay alive irrationally when all hope had been dashed and there was no turning back from their diagnosis and yet they still held out hope for a miracle.

My final thought is that we are forward looking people as Catholics. In faith, we believe that there is more beyond this life and into that great mystery of faith we will travel beyond this life. Karl Rahner, the great Jesuit theologian believed that God was ALWAYS mystery--that even after death God remained mystery to us. That's what makes God, God and us, us. We are always "other" to God and God is always "mystery" to us. That at first, seems cruel that we don't get to know all there is to know about God beyond death. But Rahner's hypothesis also holds much hope for life beyond death. Where we are still serving God in new ways and where the journey doesn't end for us, but rather change.

"For people of faith, life has changed, not ended."

What comments might you have on these issues?

1 comment:

St Edwards Blog said...

This is a thought provoking post.

It makes me wonder a bit about the study - not that it isn't valid, but as a former media research professional, I guess I look at things like this with a different eye.

My own personal experiences around this topic (talk about a skewed sample!) do lead me to think that the people I know are more likely to try to go in peace and prayer.

That said, I am reminded of a close relative of mine, who would have been at peace with that 20 years ago and today would take every step to do the opposite.

It was a combination of another relative's death many years ago and the way this living relative approaches and follows church teaching that have lead him there.

It was a combination of that same death and my own journey into learning and my own faith journey that have me look at this differently.

I don't believe in assisted suicide or anything that brings on death in that way. That said, I always think that while I am in no hurry to go, that my approach to death will be accompanied by my desire to continue on my journey with God, to God? (is this a luxury at 51 that I won't feel at 75? 80? Or during an illness?)

Well I know what I will be thinking about today and praying with also.


Googling God

Googling God
Buy Your Copy Now!