Mennonite Health JournalArticles on the intersection of faith and health
MHF President’s Column
from Mennonite Health Journal, Vol. 16, No. 4 – November 2014
While reading from the Rejoice devotional on October 1, I was struck by a quote from an elderly gentleman dealing with chronic back pain. He said, “It is my spiritual discipline to continue to live abundantly within the narrowing limits of life that come with aging.” It struck me how this man could have the determination to live well despite his suffering. We are all challenged to live abundantly, but to do so under the duress of pain and advanced age is true grace.
The concept of living abundantly in the face of advanced age and disease is intriguing. At what point do we decide to give up attempts at life preserving therapy?
I know a man in his early 80s who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma over 2 years ago. He was deathly ill at the time of his diagnosis but achieved a partial remission with modern medical therapy. He had end-of-life discussions with family and friends and was ready to accept death. He continued with chemotherapy for a year until he developed a gall bladder infection and was deemed too ill for surgery. He chose against surgery, had supportive medical therapy and survived another near death experience. Weakened from this experience, he (with the support of friends and family) decided against more chemotherapy and entered hospice. Now, almost a year and a half later he still lives in his own home, cared for by his wife with the support of hospice. He is weak but still relates to visitors and family who visit and even occasionally can attend church.
Another man in his late 80s was diagnosed with advanced cancer. He and his family decide to pursue aggressive therapy with total parenteral nutrition and extensive surgery to attempt resection of a large tumor. Following surgery he developed multiple complications and required mechanical ventilation. His family was left with the decision to press on with continued life sustaining care. Eventually, they elect to decline further surgery and proceed with hospice care. He died in a hospice inpatient center within a week.
How is it that one man declines aggressive medical care and continues living while the other fights on to try to beat his disease and does not survive?
We are constantly challenged in medicine to make choices about life and death. We try to be good stewards of the resources God has provided for us on earth and realize that at some point we all will have to choose the type of care we receive at the end of our lives. We cannot predict outcomes but we know that God is with us in whatever situation we find ourselves.
This fall MHF has sponsored regional meetings with Dr. Glen Miller speaking on dying well. His book, Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well, challenges us to prepare for death so that we do not put an unnecessary burden on our families or the health care system to go to heroic lengths to keep us alive.
These events are part of MHF’s vision to provide venues to communicate important topics to healthcare workers within the church so that they may be a more effective witness in health care matters. We encourage you as members of MHF to bring colleagues, friends and family to regional gatherings. Keep alert for regional meetings in your area coming up in the near future.
Another exciting gathering we are planning is the Annual Gathering 2015 to be held from July 19-21, 2015, just prior to Mennonite World Conference Global Assembly in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We will have the opportunity to share our journeys with healthcare workers from around the world and also to help provide health care to those travelling to the conference. Another vital part of MHF has been its involvement in missions around the world and we hope to strengthen ties with international healthcare workers at this event.
About the author
Eric Lehman, M.D., is a physician in family practice from Archbold, Ohio. He served on the MHF Board from 2012-2015 including a year as President. Eric graduated from Goshen College in 1982 and Ohio State University College of Medicine in 1986. Following his residency, he has been serving the Archbold community in family practice medicine since 1989.