Posts Tagged ‘end-of-life issues’

Elizabeth Skoglund and I have met only once.  But, our friendship grew by way of phone conversations over a period of years.  Elizabeth is the author of over twenty books.  One of them caught my eye in a bookstore when I was researching end-of-life issues.  That book, Life on the Line, proved to be powerfully helpful to me.  Elizabeth and I share the same worldview on life issues, but her experience as a counselor in private practice and as a gifted researcher and writer equipped me to be a better defender of the sanctity of human life.

Life on the Line was so helpful to me that I wanted others to be encouraged by her, too.  I invited Elizabeth to be a workshop presenter at one of our Lutherans For Life conferences.  Illness prevented her from coming, but some time later, I asked Elizabeth if she would author a short handbook on decision-making at the end of life to be published by Lutherans For Life.  She did.  The book is titled Before I Die.  I highly recommend both Life on the Line and Before I Die in this time of technological advances, shifting standards, and babel of confusing and often contradictory voices.

Elizabeth notes that volumes could be written on all the “what-ifs” of medical technology.  “But,” she writes, “we are on much safer ground if we follow certain general Biblical principles . . . whether or not we like them.  If we do not, we are in desperate danger of trying to become gods and making our own rules based on what we feel and what we want at any given time.”

Those Biblical principles, writes Elizabeth, “can be summarized in three phrases: the sanctity of human life; the sovereignty of God, including His timing in matters of life and death; and the goodness of God, who will not fail to do right.”

Elizabeth explains that questions like “What would Aunt Sally want?” are not designed to find out the will of God in bioethics.  They merely express what we want or feel.  The Christian believer does better to ask, “What is the will of God?”

There are gray areas in times of decision-making.  Use of the respirator, for example, is troubling for many of us.  The respirator is uncomfortable.  It’s use is controversial among doctors.  Elizabeth admits that being on a respirator is one of her own great personal fears.  She expresses sympathy for those who let it be known that under no conditions do they wish to be put on a respirator.

But, writes Elizabeth, if a respirator can be a bridge back to life, she believes we have an obligation to try to live.  On the other hand, if the respirator is used when death is inevitable, simply to slow down the dying process, then it is wrongfully keeping a person from being released to be with God.

I haven’t spoken with Elizabeth for some time.  A good visit is long overdue.  In these times, we need to challenge one another to think.  To encourage one another to trust our Creator God and Savior Jesus Christ.  To work where we’ve been placed in helping others respect the dignity of human life — that of the preborn and that of a loved one nearing their death.

Our last moments on earth are important ones.  For some, it is a time of decision.  For others, it is a time of transition from this life to the next.  It is a valuable time for the family who gathers at the bedside of one who is so close to going home.  Elizabeth quotes John White (Decision, May 1989):

“In life we are on a stage.  Angels and demons watch as we enact the drama of our earthly existence, and it is important that the scene close properly.  Christ has shown us how the lines should be uttered, as a cry of joyful triumph: “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit!”  (Luke 23:46 RSV).  We will only die once and will therefore have only one chance to die properly.  We must learn our lines well beforehand so that the curtains fall on a note of triumph.”

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You and I were with family and friends on Christmas Day.  We were not reading or listening to the news.  But, on December 25, the New York Times reported the following:


WASHINGTON – When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system.  But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting January 1. (Emphasis mine)

Congress and the American public explicitly rejected government funded consultations regarding end-of-life treatment.  But, very quietly on December 3, the Obama Administration issued a new regulation that authorizes Medicare to pay doctors for “end-of-life-care counseling” during patients’ annual check-ups.

Why am I concerned?  During my years on the LCMS Sanctity of Life Task Force and as president of National Lutherans For Life (LFL), I often alerted fellow Christians to the slippery slope from legalized abortion to legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide.  One of the groups that caught my attention was the Hemlock Society.  A name like that sends a chill up my back.  It must have affected others in the same way because the Hemlock Society and Compassion in Dying merged to form a new group named Compassion and Choices.

Compassion and Choices successfully lobbied for physician assisted suicide (PAS) laws passed in Oregon and Washington.  Montana appears to have followed suit.  Montana’s Supreme Court ruled in December 2009 that PAS is not illegal.  But the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition says that under Montana law assisted suicide is still homicide.

What does Compassion and Choices have to do with “end-of-life-care counseling”?   Compassion and Choices is an aggressive proponent of PAS in the United States even though its pro-suicide agenda meets with resistance.  The group’s director of legal affairs pours over state constitutions, looking for those that do not address assisted suicide.  When she finds a state that does not appear to specifically bar the act in its statutes, she considers that state as allowing assisted suicide and follows up with aggressive lobbying efforts.

Wesley J. Smith, a Discovery Institute Senior Fellow, respected author in the field of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and a frequent speaker at LFL conferences, says the goal of Compassion and Choices is to become “the Planned Parenthood of assisted suicide.”  He believes the group hopes to eventually reap taxpayer funding for end-of-life counseling and facilitiation of assisted suicide.

Leading disability rights groups have been working with state and community advocacy groups to fight the efforts of Compassion and Choice to nationalize assisted suicide.  They say newly disabled individuals who are struggling with the adjustments they must make could easily fall prey to a worldview that assumes they would rather be dead.

Question:  If assisted suicide becomes a socially accepted “treatment” for incontinence or physical weakness, what effect will this have on the training and ethics of medical professionals, health care policy decisions, and insurance coverage?

Compassion and Choices was involved last year in writing section 1233 of the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform bill signed into law March 23,  2010.    That section, questioned by some as promoting so-called “death panels,” was dropped from the bill.  Well, it may have been dropped from the bill, but as the New York Times admits, the Obama Administration has found another way to achieve its “death panel” goal: regulation.

Let me repeat: Starting January 1, 2011, Medicare is authorized to pay doctors for “end-of-life-care counseling” during patients’ annual check-ups.  This regulation inserts the federal government in end-of-life planning — not every five years as originally formulated — but annually.  Please don’t misunderstand.  I believe that every individual should discuss end-of-life decisions with loved ones, a pastor, and/or lawyer.  My husband and I each have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.  We have designated each other or our sons as our voices should we not be able to speak for ourselves.  We believe that God gave us our lives and He alone should take them.

“Even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you.  I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).  “Will you command Me concerning My children and the work of My hands” (45:9-11).

Question: How will Compassion and Choices, a group that promotes assisted suicide, lobby doctors as they provide “end-of-life-care counseling“?

Question: Will groups such as Compassion and Choices pressure doctors to measure their patients’ levels of productivity or practice utilitarian ethics?

Do I have reason for concern?  The New York Times reports that the Obama Administration justifies its regulation to mandate “end-of-life-care counseling” (“death panels?”) by citing British research.  The Brits make no pretense of politically rationed health care.  Under the British health care system, the government decides who should live or die based on what is called the “QALY” — Quality-Adjusted Life Year.  If I celebrate a year of perfect health, I will rate a “1.”  But, if I’m confined to a wheelchair, my life may be valued at less than half.  I’m very uncomfortable with what I’m reading about the British health care system because I don’t believe human life has a price tag.

At least, not one determined by his or her fellow humans.

(Sources: “Mercy Notes” of the LCMS World Relief and Human Care, Breakpoint, and The American Spectator, 12-28-10).  You  may also order my brochure titled “Ventilators, Feeding Tubes, and Other End-of-Life Questions” from Lutherans For Life .)

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