Forced Treatment II

Last week I blogged my concerns about the growing attitude of doctors that they have the right to dictate treatment to patients.  A high school acquaintance of mine posted this article on Facebook today, lamenting the demise of the young girl.  She requested feedback from some of her professional peers, and they more or less empathized with the idea that doctors should have the right to dictate treatment options.

First off, my heart and prayers go out to this girl’s family and community as they mourn her loss.  The article makes it sound as though she might be Christian, and I pray that this was – and is – the case.

Several things struck me here.  First, I thought it was fascinating that the main reason stronger legal measures weren’t employed to force continued chemotherapy treatments is that the girl is part of an indigenous people group.  Because she was part of the First Nations people group, doctors backed off on their demands.  The beliefs of that legal entity that represents a set of cultural beliefs and practices was granted respect in this situation.  I’ve not heard any such respect when dealing with Christians who opt out of treatment in favor of alternative treatments.  While it’s clear that the doctors aren’t happy with the situation, they go along with it – for what I would assume are mostly reasons of political correctness.  It’s acceptable to refer to a Christian who opts out of treatment as a nut job, but it’s not politically correct to make the same assessment of a First Nations person who does the same thing.  Curious.

And I’ll interject here with a standard disclaimer.  I am grateful for the many blessings of science and technology and medicine.  I am grateful for doctors and nurses and their commitment to healing and care for those who suffer.  I don’t personally see Scriptural grounds for refusing a course of treatment in favor of prayer or any other specific course of treatment.  However I firmly believe that such decisions are the right of the patient, and that doctors should not have the right to force a certain type of treatment.

The little girl claimed to have an encounter with Jesus Christ.  An encounter in which he told her that she was healed and not to be afraid.  The article implies that this encounter prompted her request not to continue chemotherapy, though there is nothing specific in what she says of the encounter that would substantiate that.

I wonder about the use of the word heal in this encounter.   I’m not qualified to judge whether or not the little girl did encounter the resurrected Jesus of Christ, perhaps in a similar way to Saul of Tarsus, later to be known as St. Paul.  Based on Saul’s experience, I have to believe that it is possible that Jesus met the girl just as she claimed.  I’m not in a position to judge on the accuracy with which she remembered the encounter or Jesus’ words.

But here is a fundamental point that interests me.  Everything she claims He said to her is true.

“You are already healed” – yes, this is true.  Not necessarily from cancer, but from the greater threat of sin and separation from God.  Through faith in Christ we are healed, brought spiritually from death to life.  No greater healing is possible – or necessary.  While temporal sickness and suffering may enter our lives, whether we receive healing and deliverance from them is a secondary matter to our spiritual state before God.  I pray regularly for healing for others.  I pray sincerely, and trust that this temporary healing is not the determination of God’s existence, his love for that person, his power, or anything else.  We will all die of something.  I don’t know what it will be that gets me, but I know for a fact that (unless Jesus returns first) something will get me.  Something will be the cause of my death.

“Don’t be afraid” – I don’t fear the reality of my death.  I don’t look forward to it, and it is not my duty to intentionally try to bring it about.  But I don’t fear it.  I met with a woman from my former parish last week who would die less than 24 hours after my visit.  I asked her if she was afraid and she shook her head no.  I visited with another member of my former parish this morning in the hospital.  I asked him if he was afraid of the tests and potential risks of treatment that might be suggested.  He also was firm.  “No.  I’m not afraid.  I’m in the Lord’s hands.”

I appreciate the desire of doctors to help people.  I believe that we should be responsible in availing ourselves of the treatments made available to us.  But I believe that we should be allowed to make decisions about these things.  Treatment success of the leukemia the young girl had is in the 75%-80% range, which is impressive.  But it’s not foolproof either.  That’s a big reality for a person to face.  Do doctors have the right to force people to take that gamble as opposed to a different wager?  That’s a dangerous slope we start off on then.

I’m not advocating for attempting to end one’s life.  But I trust that as good as our science and medicine are, they are not exclusive, and that some people experience healing from means outside the realm of mainstream medical wisdom.  While I might caution someone to be very careful about going down that road – because the risks are so serious – something in me is more comfortable with that than with being forced to receive a particular type of treatment.

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