Life & Death

I by and large enjoyed this thought-provoking essay by Ezekiel Emanuel.  While there are also folks who see ominous undercurrents in his philosophy and his involvement with crafting Obamacare, I think that Emanuel raises some interesting ideas.  Could this be a carefully crafted piece of spin to hide less appealing ramifications?  Certainly.  But I prefer to treat this essay in isolation, as it stands as a single work.

First off, I’ll say that the fundamental flaw in Emanuel’s essay, from a Christian perspective, is that it is all me-centered.  What do I want?  What do I feel is adequate or healthy?  How do I wish to be remembered?  These are all questions that we entertain, no doubt, from time to time.  But allowing them to become the driving factor in making any sort of decision is dangerous, let alone decisions regarding health and life and death.  While Emanuel alludes to the search for greater meaning that he hopes to undertake in the coming years (based on his decision not to seek certain medical testing & treatment at a given age), it is clear in this particular essay that such questions have yet to affect his thought process.

For the Christian, life is a gift, from start to finish.  We do not summon our own existence and therefore our rights in determining the end of our life are curtailed as well.  So to arbitrarily (or with great calculation) indicate a particular point in life at which we prefer to die is somewhat strange.

But not entirely so.  The desire to live at all and any costs is equally problematic, and we have a system of healthcare that encourages this by redistributing the costs of such desires.  The Christian should not be afraid to die, nor should we actively seek to die.

Ideally, regardless of age, our responses to health-related issues should be driven not by fear, not by some sort of twisted desire for immortality, but rather in faithfulness.  How are my decisions in keeping with the idea that a loving God has created me, has died to redeem me from myself, and has promised me life beyond my imagination?  How might we make decisions if we treat death as what we claim it is – an enemy defeated in Christ.  We do not seek to yield to that enemy temporarily or any sooner than necessary, but we need not run in fear from it either.

This is undoubtedly a complicated process of prayer and consideration in God’s Word.  And I will quickly affirm that the Bible is not a secret code designed to unlock my decision about a specific healthcare choice.  But the Word of God can help remind me, set me in a proper context, to consider the choices that are placed before me (as opposed to hypothetical choices and what-if choices).

As such, there is no ideal age at which to die.  No age is sacred or otherwise exempt from the effects of sin and suffering in this world, which include sickness and disease.  Sometimes the shorter life lived in comparative freedom and joy is better than the life prolonged only through arduous treatments that render us nearly insensate.  We are not to seek death before it comes to us, nor are we compelled to hold death at bay at all costs.  It is a balancing act that will likely look different in each believer’s life, which makes policy dictates dangerous, at best.

I pray that Mr. Emanuel finds God in his remaining years, that he will engage in that active search and exploration as he has hinted he should.  I think he has a very good point that such explorations are blunted and muted in a culture oriented always towards youth and vitality, that never remind us that we will grow old or that sickness might arrive in the bloom of youth.

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