Just about every day in the news, we hear of an advance in modern medicine that can prolong life that might otherwise be lost if the person is left without this medical treatment. Whether it is a new treatment for an otherwise terminal illness or the ability to save an infant that might not survive after birth, the advances in medicine have been breathtaking in their ability to prolong and improve quality of life. In many cases, a religious person might consider such things as modern miracles. I know that I do.
So where do these medical miracles come from? Certainly, from the minds and work of Doctors and medical researchers. In most cases, many years of study, trials and treatments bring about these things. But, really, who is the author of these miracles?
The first thought that comes to my mind, is that these things come from God. That He has given the gift of intelligence to the people to discover medical miracles that prolong life. That He inspires them and allows certain positive things to happen to make these advances a reality. Because all good things come from God. I don’t think you’d get an argument about this from a religious person. Secularists would argue otherwise, but then they argue anything that has to do with God and religion.
Here is the LDS Church position on prolonging life:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not believe that allowing a person to die from natural causes by removing a patient from artificial means of life support, as in the case of a long-term illness, falls within the definition of euthanasia. When dying from such an illness or an accident becomes inevitable, it should be seen as a blessing and a purposeful part of eternal existence. Members should not feel obligated to extend mortal life by means that are unreasonable. These judgments are best made by family members after receiving wise and competent medical advice and seeking divine guidance through fasting and prayer. ” (http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/public-issues/euthanasia-and-prolonging-life
But, on the other hand, I wonder if God, in His infinite wisdom and perfect Plan of Salvation would allow unnecessary prolonging of a life that might, through the natural progression of things, pass away from the infliction. It seems that He allows those inflictions as part of the cycle of life. Could it be that these medical miracles actually thwart the Plan of the Father? Could these seemly positive things be the product of him whose purpose is to put obstacles in the way of God’s children who try to realize their greatest reward, that of Eternal Life? Could these medical miracles be his work?
Could it be Satan?
Kind of a crazy premise I know, but I can think of a number of reasons why it could be so.
For an older person, at the final stages of his/her life, it would seem cruel to intervene medically to prevent that person from passing through the veil to the other side to a possible reunion of loved ones, an assignment and peace and rest from the trials of this life.
For an infant, born prematurely with a life threatening condition, needing only to gain a mortal body, being hooked to wires and tubes, treated for months to receive a partial life, with multiple challenges and a difficult existence.
Think of the resources, both time and money that go into prolonging a life. The millions of dollars poured into research. The profits made by huge corporations. The fact it can drain a family’s life savings, leaving them in debt forever.
Now, there are many, many examples of lives being prolonged that are fruitful and worthwhile. There is no doubt about that.
There are many stories about miracles that have happened to cure someone of an infliction. But, in many of those cases, they are without medical intervention and a mystery to medical personnel. That is very different than what I am discussing. Those non-medical miracles are given to us by God.
So, what do you think? Again, I know it is crazy, but it is something I thought about.
Science and medicine are merely tools to be used for good and for bad. The way to judge whether something is from God or from the devil is to heed the words of Mormon who said:
“11 For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he will follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.
12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually…
…14 Wherefore, tae heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.”
The prolonging of life (at whatever age), seems to me to be a good thing, not a bad, generally speaking. Were it not so, and were we to think that natural injuries or illnesses “an act of God”—and therefore uninterferable—there would be numerous things we would not bother trying to solve, numerous diseases we would consider beyond our ability, or interest, to resolve. This natural world of ours that we live in is truly amazing in its complexity and diversity. Just take the natural process and evolution of diseases. We may have a shot for flu this season, but next season’s flu changes, as does our vaccine. You can never get rid of a cold, because it also changes. But calling a common cold an act of God, there therefore not something to interfere with, to let it get to a point where it will kill you, is irresponsible, and I believe God will tell us that when we see Him at Judgment Day.
The question about prolonging life should also be considered along side the question of why the true Founding Fathers (i.e. Adam and his children) lived for so long at the beginning. Why did God prolong their lives for so long? How wrinkly were they at 300 years? 🙂 Not to mention 700! Surely they lived that long because there was little at the time in their environment that attacked their bodies so pervasively as we have today.
I see no problem in prolonging life. But in terms of complete invalids, like someone in a coma, or brain dead, the choice should be the person’s. If that person had not said previously if he or she would want to stay alive if brain dead or in a coma, the choice is that of the closest kin.
Prolonging life and improving the quality of life are often different things.
Just as Dan said, we have tools, and we decide how we use them – for good or bad. I believe that all truth – knowledge of things as they are – comes from God. But there are times when Satan uses a truth to dress up his deceit so that it is easier to swallow.
“I know it is crazy”. You’re right.
Oh, and the “infant…needing only to gain a mortal body” thing is speculative and probably false doctrine.
I know that I do NOT want to be kept alive by heroic means just for the sake of continued biological function. Quality of life is important to me personally. I love life. I enjoy it. I am a happy person. I don’t particularly want to die, but I am not afraid of it either.
I couldn’t stand the thought of crippling my loved ones with debt, and making myself a burden to them. I wouldn’t want that just to dodge the inevitable for a couple of years (or for just a chance at it). I leave that decision in the hands of my loved ones.
I don’t know about trying to figure out if it is God or the Devil. Good question to ponder. It is interesting. It just doesn’t seem like a strong, absolute, good vs. evil issue to me.
If that person had not said previously if he or she would want to stay alive if brain dead or in a coma, the choice is that of the closest kin.
One cannot be brain dead, but yet “stay alive.” Once you are dead, you are dead, whether that death has been determined by cessation of brain activity or cessation of cardiopulmonary activity (which leads to cessation of brain activity). This is a concept that is frequently confusing; many folks don’t equate “brain dead” with death. But in all states the cessation of all brain activity is accepted as a legal definition of death.
You might want to Google Aubrey de Grey. Relatively minor extensions of life are just the beginning.
Jeff, you raise some interesting ideas.
Unfortunately, your post uses many terms that are somewhat vague. What does it mean to “prolong life”? Do you mean to prolong life when there is very little evidence that the person will return to normal? Who defines normal? Or do you mean keeping someone alive until they can return to a reasonably normal life at some point in time?
Let me give you two specific situations to think about. Both are people I know personally. One was a physician with whom I worked in training, and the other is currently a patient of mine. They represent the extremes, I will freely admit.
1 – A man develops Guillan-Barre syndrome. This disease is caused by an auto-immune attack against the myelin (insulating sheath) around the nerves outside of the central nervous system. It causes profound weakness, and frequently respiratory arrest. This man was left with the ability to blink his eyes and wiggle the toes on his right foot. He could do nothing else. He was unable to breath on his own, and required mechanical ventilation to perform all of his breathing. He was incontinent. He required a feeding tube. However, he continues to be cognitively normal. He understands everything that is said to him, and would use toe-wiggling to answer yes/no questions. But yet, according to the current opinion of the Church, stopping his ventilator would not be euthanasia, but allowing him to die of natural causes.
2 – A man suffers a cardiac arrest. He is not breathing for 21 minutes, and doesn’t have a pulse when paramedics arrive. They resuscitate him. He requires a ventilator to help him breath, but he triggers those breaths himself. He has no spontaneous movements of his limbs and never opens his eyes. He is incontinent and requires a feeding tube. He shows no signs of cognitive functioning. Again, in the opinion of the church, stopping his ventilator and feeding tubes would not be euthanasia, but allowing him to die of natural causes (he might even continue to breath on his own).
Does it matter that medical knowledge says that if you support man #1 he will return to a fairly normal life, even if that means walking with braces and cane/walker? He will have no change in mental capacity? On the other hand, man #2 is unlikely to survive off the ventilator, even with a feeding tube, and if he does survive off the ventilator will remain in a persistent vegetative state (i.e. Terry Schiavo).
Lastly, can we really say that either decision is good or evil, depending on what is decided? Will man #1 go to hell if he tells the doctors to turn off his ventilator and let him die? Will the family of man #2 go to hell if they insist that doctors keep him on a ventilator indefinitely? Each of these decisions is personal, with each person(s) making decisions based upon what they think is right or wrong.
BTW, man #1 in the above example stayed for six months in the ICU, then a year of intensive rehab. He then returned to work in his medical practice until he retired 15 years later.
Thanks for your thoughtful responses. I think I said in the piece that “prolonging” life with medical intervention when the natural progression would be that the person passes away.
Certainly, the examples you use are classical. One where a person so ill would die without the medical help but goes on to live a productive life. And the other, where a person can be kept mechanical functioning but is not really alive as we know it. Certainly, if the person can breathe on their own, they must be left to have their life run its course.
I am talking about modern medicine expensive and extraordinary procedures are now used to save lives which otherwise before would have died. Is that good or is it bad, that really is the question. The fundamental issue is “do modern medical miracles thwart God’s Plan or are they a part of it? Maybe I should have stated that better.
Thanks for the response Jeff.
To keep my answer brief as possible, I would answer that good or bad is relative. What might be “good” or “right” for one person, may be “evil” or “wrong” for another, even if their situations are identical.
Since free choice is an integral part of God’s plan (at least the plan taught by the LDS), right or wrong can only be decided based upon the desires of the person who is affected. If I believe that medical science is a gift from God, and He would want me to keep myself alive with all possible means then my family should respect my wishes. IMO, that is the “right” decision. If I have ALS and want my ventilator turned off and my family and physicians refuse to do so because I still have my cognitive faculties, that is, imo, “wrong.”
And when all is said and done, maybe, in some cases, God’s plan isn’t thwarted at all. Is it possible that for some people, the spirit leaves the body long before basic physiological function ceases? Just as we don’t know exactly when the spirit and body are united, we don’t know when they are divided. Maybe the body can continue to function when the spirit is gone. Maybe, just maybe, patient’s in irreversible coma or persistent vegetative state are that way because their spirits have already left and returned to God.
“For an older person, at the final stages of his/her life, it would seem cruel to intervene medically to prevent that person from passing through the veil to the other side to a possible reunion of loved ones, an assignment and peace and rest from the trials of this life.”
My Mom has severe alzheimers and her spirit as I have known it is almost completely gone! And I sadly agree with this. But don’t we as a church LDS hospital people train medical professionals who hopefully not doing Satan’s will to sustain life.