Dying well is not simply a matter of getting our affairs in order and making sure that our health care proxy is informed that we are in the emergency room. It is the time we meet God in a definitive way. Dying well has at least three essential components.
First, medical care needs to be put in proper perspective. No one gets out of this life alive. Doctors can cure us for a while, they can relieve our suffering as we are dying, and they can do a good job of obstructing death when we are clearly dying, if we are so dumb as to let them. A good death for me will require a good doctor. This means that the doctor will be attentive to my wishes, vigilant about symptom control and pain relief; that he or she will be a prudent advisor in the face of sadness and fear, and sensitive to the dynamic that life is never to be taken deliberately but need not be prolonged when the burdens of therapy outweigh the benefits to the patient. But it is also important that medical care not be the focus of dying. The doctor and the other members of the care team are not the stars of the show when we come to the last act. They have important supporting roles.
The key players, however, are the person who is dying, those who love him and God. A good doctor will be clear about the limitations of her art. One sometimes hears physicians say to a person: “I am sorry, but there is nothing more that can be done.” A better response is that of the physician who is wise enough to state: “I have no magic treatment, no new drug, no surgery that is likely to change the course of your disease. But I promise to be with you, to relieve your symptoms and never to abandon you to the experience of your illness.” Putting medical care into its proper perspective means that patients and their families do not always grasp for more and put misplaced hope in doctors and treatments when dying is clearly at hand. In the light of eternal life, and our hope in the resurrection, relentless efforts to prolong the dying process of someone with an incurable illness can seem somewhere between silly and blasphemous.
Second, dying well for people of faith who are Catholic means sensitivity to the moral tradition of the church. This requires finding the mean between those who reject any sort of life-sustaining care and those who think that being Catholic requires that every possible tube and treatment must be thrust upon a person before one can die. The former attitude comes close to euthanasia in its lack of appreciation of the goodness of life and the need to value the gift that God has given us. The second attitude replaces faith in God with vitalism; it suggests that every heartbeat is sacred rather than realizing that life’s absolute value is found in union with God.
Practically speaking, when one is facing a terminal illness the wisdom of the church is that one is not obliged to pursue treatments that are painful, difficult to bear or simply prolong dying. A person who has cancer or advanced emphysema, or is facing the last stages of decline from heart failure should not feel that there is any moral problem in refusing to be resuscitated or declining the aggressive high technology care offered in the intensive care unit.
Third, and most important, dying well means living well with God. Preparation for death should be an everyday affair for the Christian, not in the sense that one is continually revising advance directives or wondering about potential moral conflicts, but in the daily effort to grow in intimacy with the Lord and to live one’s life well. Although planning for death with advance directives, good medical care and moral sensitivity are important, the essential part of dying well is living in Christ.
April 4, 2011 by joyfulpapist
Patron Saint for 2013
Jerry on Gone AWOL toadspittle on Gone AWOL toadspittle on Gone AWOL toadspittle on Gone AWOL Kerberos on Gone AWOL
- Gone AWOL
- “Come and have breakfast”
- Seeing is believing
- Rise up and walk!
- Reformation, like charity, begins at home
- To the city and the world
- He is risen!
- God has died, and hell trembles
- Holy Saturday – Today there is a Great Silence over the world
- I thirst! Jesus asks for the fourth cup of the Passover
Proud to be an amateur Catholic B-team member