Archive for December 6th, 2010

Learn to live with what you are – 1

In Church we have this little meeting sometimes on a Sunday night called Forum. We sit in the office and drink dodgy coffee and try to work out some theological topic relevant to the contemporary world.

A few weeks ago, I led a discussion about end of life and theological implications following on from our involvment with modern medicine. This blog summarises a lot of my take on it.

Last night myself and Mrs Steffi Knorn were leading one on the interaction of ethics, theology and modern medicine in issues pertaining to the beginning of life.

What follows is not exactly the minutes of the meeting, more like how the discussion flowed from my point of view and my reactions to it. Be aware that it contains some very distinct Christian assumptions about image bearing, and protection of the powerless and voiceless in society.

Bottom line we seem pretty bewildered and confused on the whole thing. On a spectrum from where we believe life begins to what we do with extremely tiny premature babies we struggled to articulate an ethic or theology that was somewhat separate from what modern medical ethics tells us to do.

We retreat to defining what is good based on a balance of harms and benefits with a presumption that survival is the positive outcome to be chased and disability (in the case of extreme pre-term births) is a negative thing that sways us against active treatment.

When it comes to defining when life begins most of our discussions resolved around various different scientifically defined points. When I think of where life begins it takes me a while to realise that this is a poor question when it is abstracted from a theology of relationship, image bearing, sex and community.

I struggle to know what it means to care for an extremely low birth weight 24 week gestation infant. I struggle to know if active and invasive intervention is the best way to love them and honour their image-bearingness.

200 years ago an extremely low-birth weight infant was fairly easy to care for. You kept them warm and the you buried them.

We now find oursleves in a bit of a different situation.

The question I find myself asking is that if we can do something why should we do something?

Followed to its logical conclusion this is kind of a scary question, cause it throws virtually all medical interventions in the air.

Hargaden’s point (which he was making up as he went so see it as that, rather than a finely tuned postion) was this (forgive me if I make a hames of it) – if we accept that all life is holy (which is the orthodox Catholic positon as I understand it) then life is inherently good and worth preserving. Therefore we should fight to preserve life. This has particular relevance for the powerless and voiceless (infants and those with severe disabilities) because if we acknowledge their lives as holy then we have a duty to protect their lives as no one else will. There is a risk that the powerless are silenced by the powerful and wiped from the earth. It is our repsonsibility to fight on behlaf of the powerless.

Follow this out and it seems that if life is holy then the right thing to do is to fight to preserve it, aggressively if necessary.

The situation for those with a voice is somewhat different as they are able to acknowledge and choose that their lives are not of ultimate value and therefore they can choose to forgo life-saving treatment.

It is at this point that I struggle.

I find it hard that an ethic that is designed to protect the powerless results in us causing pain and suffering.

It breaks the golden rule (do onto others as…) or Kant’s categorical imperative. If i was a 25 week premie with massive IVH (bleed into the brain) and bilateral pneumos (punctured lungs on both sides) and florid sepsis (an overwhelming infection) and had already failed multiple treatments I would not want further life-preserving treatment. This would be my choice.

So this ethic seems to need refinement. We cannot fight to preserve life out of fear (a reasonable fear) that we will silence the powerless, because in preserving life we will end up doing violence to them.

Indeed perhaps the whole problem with this, why we find it so hard is because we don’t really know what life is for.

We reach for medicine as the framework to answer these questions by because we have no better answers.

Medicine will at least give us some kind of an answer (though we still find it hard to swallow) that life is most flourishing when we are conscious, without pain, autonomous, and have many years before us.

This question will remain unanswerable in the church till we become a people with an alternative definition that values and understands all the image bearers that this world is peopled with.

Comments, criticims and rants welcome.

Advertisements

Get real get right

As the church should we:

A) seek to know the right thing to do

Or

B) be formed into a people of character who do the right thing

Or maybe they’re the same thing.

(if there’s anything life has taught me is that difficult questions are best answered using simplistic binary variables…)

 

 


About

December 2010
M T W T F S S
« Nov   Jan »
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  
Advertisements