A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, June 06, 2013

On Waiting Lists and Lung Transplants: Even in Medicine Resources Are Limited

The very difficult and tragic case of Sarah Murnaghan, the ten-year-old girl who needs a lung transplant in order to survive has made national news.Since Sarah is under twelve years of age, she cannot be on the adult transplant list, which would increase her chances of receiving a transplant. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been put in the very difficult position of making an exception to put young Sarah on the adult waiting list. She has resisted doing so, but now a federal judge has ordered her to do just that.

This is an extremely difficult and agonizing situation. On the one hand, I completely understand Sarah's parents' desire to see their daughter live. If she were my daughter, I would be fighting tooth and nail to get her that transplant. On the other hand, I also understand the other side of the issue as well. In putting Sarah at the head of the line will that action mean someone else's death whose time will run out before another lung is available? I do not understand the criticism from some conservative pundits suggesting that Secretary Sebelius has become a one-women death panel. It seems to me that her position is the politically conservative one-- that laws should not be changed or exceptions made based on emotional whims. Of course, it is preferable in my view to save a young girl who potentially has her entire life ahead of her than to give those same lungs to someone who has already lived most of her or his life. Every life is precious. A price tag cannot be attached to anyone, but the reality is decisions are made every day, even in medicine, that affect the lives of others.

One of things that is seldom discussed or acknowledged is that medicine, health care, just like everything else in life has limited capabilities and resources. The medical resource well is not bottomless. Medicine is and always will be rationed-- it doesn't matter whether the health care system is a purely private system where the insurance companies decline medicines and procedures for various reasons, or whether it's a single payer system where the government gives that task to an agency of some kind. In medicine money, time, and resources are not without end. So when Secretary Sebelius says that some live and some die, she is correct. Of course, it can be difficult to accept that truth when it's your loved one whose life hangs in the balance. We must remember that the other person who is ill that we do not know and who will be denied their life-saving procedure because they are now one place down on the list is loved and cherished by others too.

I am not suggesting that organ transplant regulations should not be revisited. I am also not saying that young Sarah should go to the head of the line nor left on the children's transplant list. As I said, this is one of those tragic and agonizing situations where no decision is perfect. What I am saying is that as we work to make sure that everyone has access to basic health care (a good thing) and as we seek to offer the best medicine we can (another good thing), we need to remember that medicine is not and will never be the gift that keeps on giving for all time. It cannot achieve immortality. Eternity is in the hands of God alone.

Perhaps one of the gifts the church can give to the world is to be the kind of people who live their lives in such a way that we bear witness to the finitude of our existence, which means that there comes a time when we willingly no longer fight even death. Perhaps we need to be reminded that ultimately our lives rest not in the hands of physicians, but in the hands of God. Perhaps our desire to be kept alive beyond all reason testing the limits of medicine can demonstrate a lack of faith in the One who gives us all our days and who is with us in all our days.

The only thing without limit is the love of God who is with us in life and in death.

Let us pray for Sarah Murnaghan.


Christy Thomas said...

Just wrote a book about this, An Ordinary Death. You can see it here:

This is a important issue that needs more conversation.

bthomas said...

Human suffering is always a hard thing, especially so when it involves a child. Without equivocation let us all remember in prayer Sarah Murnaghan and her parents. They have a long and difficult path ahead of them.

The potential of a lung transplant to save the life of this little girl is remarkable. Until forced by court order, the refusal of the administration to act to facilitate that process is unconscionable.

At issue is trust. The current administration cannot be trusted to act with integrity. It’s ongoing track record of scandal and illegality argue to convincingly against any such assumption. In making her ruling the secretary is justifiably described as a self-designated one person death panel. It is just such instances as that that justify the extreme suspicion of the administration as regards its control of healthcare and other programs critical to taxpayers and other citizens.

If medical care is to be rationed, let it be apart from the actions of partisan political operatives whose decisions and conduct cannot be seen apart from the political interests of themselves and those who they serve. To suppose that a political appointee should be allowed to determine the life or death of anyone is as much without merit as to suppose that healthcare itself should be anything other than a individual decision based on what that person or family and its own resources. Let those who want a Cadillac medical system pay for it. Let those who prefer a Chevy system pay for what they want. Let those who are unwilling to buy either buy... neither. It is their decision.

To suppose that one group should force others to pay for what they want is nothing less than robbery facilitated by the use of government as a weapon of force. This is the main reason the majority of Americans reject out of hand a one party nationalization of healthcare which serves well its partisan interests but at best only poorly serves the interests of the nation.

M. Booth said...

We should also pray for the person and the family of the person who will die because she was put at the beginning of the list.

bthomas. . .You confuse people who are unwilling to pay with those who are unable to pay. Everyone wants a Cadillac health system but we all can't afford it. So poor people should die because they can't afford it? Also, children who are developmentally delayed are commonly refused transplants because hospitals deem them unworthy of receiving an organ. Medical ethics is a very complicated field. We should make such complicated decisions based on sound thinking and not on emotional decisions.

Gary said...

So how can intelligent, educated Baptists and baptistic evangelical Christians read the same Bible as we orthodox Christians and come up with a completely different interpretation of the Bible? I would like to compare our two different approaches to interpreting the Bible with a non-biblical quote as an example.

How does one interpret this phrase: "All men are created equal" from the US Bill of Rights?

Baptist approach: Let's look at the original language at the time that this phrase was written in the late 1700's and see what the original meaning of each of the words in the phrase was: So...the word "men" meant "the plural of one adult male human being". Therefore, this phrase means that all men, every adult male human being on earth, is created equal. That is the meaning in the original language. Any other interpretation of this phrase is false.

Lutheran approach: Let's look at the original language of this text and the cultural context in which it was written. Also, let's look at the writings of contemporary writers of that period to see that they believed that the writers of the Bill of Rights meant to say in the phrase in question. So...when comparing the original language of the text with the documented, known cultural context, verified by the writings of other contemporary writers of that time period, we reach the conclusion that the phrase used by the writers of the US Bill of Rights "all men are created equal" did NOT mean that all adult, human males on planet earth are created equal, but that only WHITE European males are created equal.

Does any educated person today really believe that the Southern signers of the US Constitution believed that adult black males were created equal to them?? (Most Northerners did not believe that either.)

Do you see how easy it is to arrive at a different interpretation of any "ancient" document if you are unwilling to look at contemporary evidence from that time period to confirm your interpretation?

There is NO evidence of any early Christian believing the Baptist/evangelical position of Symbolic, adult-only Baptism; that in Baptism God does NOT forgive sins. The Baptist/evangelical interpretation of Scripture is very logical and reasonable, but as in the case of the "Baptist" interpretation of the Bill of Rights...it is completely wrong!

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

bthomas said...

"... because she was put at the beginning of the list." She was put on the list as opposed to being excluded from any consideration at all. Today she is alive and doing well. Cool.

As to unwilling/unable to pay, there is no confusion. The current administration nationalized healthcare in the U.S. to buy votes. It's that simple. It is no different than the bread and circuses of Rome. It plays to those who want someone else to pay for their lifestyle.