Thursday, November 16, 2017

Departing in Peace

Christian philosopher and bioethicist Bill Davis has written a book on end-of-life decision-making: Departing in Peace.

A few observations: 

1. Good discussion of miracles and prayer. The way many Christians responded to Nabeel Qureshi's losing battle with cancer illustrates the need for his book. Many of them just can't face the prospect of death. They have a very myopic view of prayer. 

2. What he said about Moses and Elijah (54) having a death wish, but God required them to soldier on, is an important point. Worth expanding on.

3. I have a quibble with one of his examples of suicide on 53-54. I don't think it's fair to Saul's armor-bearer to say he turned against God, reflecting a heart at enmity with God. As the king's armor-bearer, he had to go wherever the king went. Saul led him into a situation where, if captured alive, he'd be tortured to death. In that context, I don't think it was impious of the armor-bearer to kill himself before the enemy had a chance to torture him to death.  I think that's analogous to, say, stranded office-workers in the Twin Towers who jumped to their death to avoid being burned alive. 

Of course, those are unusual and extreme situations.

4. Nice to see him say cremation is morally permissible (5).

5. On p37, he said:

The Bible teaches that we must accept medical attention that is likely to cure us of our diseases. As Christ's servants, we are called to maintain our health so that we can serve him well. God's word obligates us to accept loving care that is likely to maintain our restore our health. 

Although I think that's often true, I don't think that's reliable as a general principle. It needs to be qualified in light of counterexamples.

In a fallen world, the body has an expiration date. A point in the lifecycle when it is naturally programmed to shut down. Planned obsolescence. 

Medical science can often artificially prolong life. And there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Indeed, that's frequently be a good thing. 

However, artificially prolonging your life makes it far more likely that you will develop the ravaging diseases of old age like Parkinson's, dementia, and macular degeneration. By contrast, if you let nature take its course and died when your body would normally give out, you'd expire before the onset of diseases like that.

I don't think there's a universal or even necessarily general duty to put yourself at heightened risk of physical and/or mental incapacitation by artificially prolonging your life. In a way, that's tempting fate. Asking for trouble when you endeavor to circumvent the design specifications of the body, in a fallen world. Sometimes, oftentimes, there are drastic tradeoffs if you do that. Short-term gains at a terrible long-term cost. So that has to be balanced against unintended consequences. 

Hence, I think we need to take other considerations into account. If, say, one elderly spouse is caregiver for the other spouse, the caregiver has an obligation to stay as healthy as possible until the other spouse dies. That sort of thing. 

1 comment:

  1. There has been a lot of new medical research out showing the benefits of strength training for older folks. As we head into our 60s and 70s, there are four primary things we face (unless we smoke, and then there are more): cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sarcopenia (muscle loss and frailty), and osteoporosis. Strength training addresses all four of these: it strengthens the heart (in ways different from that of cardiovascular training) -- increasing vascularity and also enabling the body to better handle some of the poor diet decisions we face; working the muscles almost literally wrings all the excess sugar out of our systems; plus resistance training staves off frailty and bone loss (which can lead to better balance, reduced possibility of falls, etc.)

    On top of that, it changes the body composition -- it reduces fat. Muscle, it is being learned, is not only a thing to move the body. It is part of the endocrine system, and working the muscles brings a cascade of good substances that promote healing throughout (and not just the muscles). Similarly, excess fat is also part of the endocrine system, and it also releases not-so-good things into our systems.

    Based on what I've read (and in my experience in weight training), I think that Christians growing older can have at least a reasonable expectation of good health to a point at which we can see that our return to the Lord is imminent. It's the promise of a hopeful and yes, a peaceful life throughout their older years.