5/02 2017

It’s life Jim….but not as we know it!

I have been reflecting on the concept life and how we value it. Sometimes it seems like the most important thing we posses and hold onto with every finger nail and fibre of our existence. Other times not so much! Is it the number of days my heart beats, the number of breaths I take that’s important or is it something more profound and deeper than that? Is life really worth living if I’m sick, old or have a physical or other disability. Who gets to decide? What is quality of life anyway? The title of this post comes from Dr McCoy of Star Trek fame, I think it frames the question pretty well.

Is my life the most important thing to me, or would I give it up if I could for someone else;-to help them live longer or in less pain? Is it easier to be the one leaving or the one staying-when it comes to end of life situations?

Murder is one of the most serious crimes we can commit, suicide is no longer a criminal act, (not sure it ever should have been-more of a desperate cry for help) and termination of pregnancy in the main has no legal implications, because at least in Canada until the child is born it has no legal standing. Mass shootings continue to happen in schools and public places. Most recently while I was sitting in an airport watching TV, in Ft Lauderdale Airport, Florida. Why is it that so often the shooter will kill themselves, but not before they have ended the lives of many innocent bystanders? We have regimes ending the lives of those who don’t share the same political views, or religion,-or even a different interpretation of the same religion and interestingly that’s not isolated to any single religion historically. How is the end of someone’s life different depending on what your camera angle is, or the lens through which you view it?

Palliative care is thought by many to be about the care of the dying. Actually this couldn’t be further from the truth-it is about caring for the living until they die. It is about life first and foremost. Changes things a bit when you see it that way.

Suffering is not something we would ever seek or willingly embrace. At least not if we could avoid it-would we? I have heard it said that Pain is what happens to the body and Suffering is what happens to the person. There are many types of pain and many forms of suffering. The problems come in that pain can’t be objectively measured, neither can suffering. It is therefore what a person says it is and thus can’t be debated. Problems further occur if we buy in to the prevailing urban myth that we will, or even can, have a life that has no pain and suffering. I’m afraid if we do it just sets us up for a life that is a major disappointment.

Does suffering end when we die? Well, kind of depends on who you ask and what you believe.
Problem here too, in that we can honestly believe whatever we like, makes no difference until it is tested by circumstance. Is Heaven suffering free and available to all of us, or not exist at all? Have we as Christians made the narrow way so narrow that no-one would ever qualify, or made it so universally available that we just carry on doing whatever we like and God is fine with that-it’s ok everyone’s in. Is there a Hell- can I even ask the question without losing all credibility-surely just some medieval myth? Some good questions-still searching for some answers to some of this, (get back to you sometime! )I do know that the God I know is more merciful, loving and full of grace than any of His followers I have ever met and am ever likely to.This I find is strangely reassuring.

In the same way as I don’t fully know if a patient is experiencing pain and suffering when I sedate them, because at that time I don’t have any other way of helping, I would not know whether people continue to suffer after the end of there lives or even for sure where they are going. I am not sure then why as a society we are so quick to embrace end of life as the ultimate end to something we don’t fully understand.



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