Mark, at Pseudo-Polymath has written a post, The Christian Response to Healthcare and End of Life, which has what I consider the greatest quality for blog posts: It deserves to be discussed. My immediate problem is that there are simply too many things to discuss, and I’m a long winded person in any case.
So I’m going to divide things up a bit and write several posts. In doing this division, I will use a couple of my own beliefs, which I may discuss later if I remember. The first is that I believe that Christian motivation and Christian strategy or courses of action are different. For example, we are to be motivated by love for our neighbor, but we can disagree on just how we go about it. We can desire that nobody suffer for lack of health care, and yet take completely different paths. This doesn’t mean that all courses of action are equal; it’s just that they should be discussed in practical, empirical terms. The liberal who believes fervently that everyone must have health care, and therefore advocates a single-payer government system because he believes that’s the only way to make it work, is not less or more of a Christian than the conservative who believes that system will destroy health care in his community. There’s lots of room for debate there as to just how a Christian should act, but I would suggest regarding both as properly motivated by Christian principles.
The second division is between the things we accomplish through the government and the things we accomplish privately. As a Christian, I want my community to be safe. To what extent is this the work of my church, and to what extent is it the work of the police and courts? As a Christian where do I get involved? I think this type of question is important. For example, local churches provide various services to young people including tutoring, sports programs, and facilities for their activities. All of this helps make a safer community. I’m a firm believer in the Christian community as salt, or perhaps I might say more directly, the kingdom of God intruding on earth.
My previous post that Mark linked was very much in the secular community, and reflects me looking at solutions that involved action in the political arena. Mark makes an important point in mentioning that fact. I’m several steps beyond my basic motivations, and trying to resolve at least a part of the problem through public action. I don’t apologize for that, but it is by no means a complete picture.
It’s difficult for me to find the language for some of what I’m thinking, so I’m going to start by reflecting on my parents’ lives. Why? Because they embodied, in my view, the other side of the picture. There are things on which I disagree with them. My father has now gone to be with the Lord, but my mother is still very active at the age of 89. We now belong to different denominations. They are Seventh-day Adventists; I’m United Methodist.
I’m guessing some of my more secular friends would not be terribly happy to have my father treat them. Dad would offer to pray with every patient, whether it was a consultation in the office, surgery, or on hospital rounds. He didn’t force it. If someone refused, he didn’t use the sarcastic, “Well, I’ll pray for you,” but I know that he did pray for all those patients on his own anyhow.
For both my parents, providing health care was the way they lived out the gospel. They would not get along with many of the modern Christian hospitals where the only specifically Christian thing is the name of the sponsoring organization. There was no division. That was a difference between me and my dad. I speak “secular” when I feel it’s appropriate. His world was undivided.
When I was in my teens I asked him whether God healed his patients or his medical care did, considering he prayed for every one. He said, “God always does the healing. Sometimes he uses my medical skills.” At the same time, he was passionate about the best information, the best equipment, the best techniques, and absolute thoroughness and integrity in medical care. I only recall my father becoming truly angry a couple of times, and all were cases when it appeared that someone’s negligence had harmed a patient. That was something you just didn’t do in his world.
Though he was an MD, and was married to an RN, both professions in which one can make just a bit of money, my father lived and died with very little. One of the humorous incidents in our lives came while he was working in north Georgia, and my parents had applied to be a foster home. They were notified that they were approved, but then no children came. Since they had been told the county was desperate for foster homes, they wondered why. Suddenly, a year later, a new social worker arrives with child in tow, asking if we were prepared. Sure enough we were, but my mother wanted to know the reason for the delay. “Well,” said the social worker, “my predecessor didn’t think your husband was a real doctor. He doesn’t look like one or act like one.” We never did get the details, so we have to guess!
For my dad, being a Christian and a physician meant being available. Everyone who came to him received treatment. During the few years he was in private practice he wouldn’t even send bills to collection. He sent two reminders and then forgot about it. He asked his church where care was needed, and he went there, serving in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Guyana (South America).
One of the more amazing things my parents would do, besides praying with patients was occasionally to sing for them, again during hospital rounds. This was especially likely in terminal cases, or cases of great hardship. Many patients remember Dr. and Mrs. Neufeld singing a duet for them at the bedside in the hospital.
What I’m asking myself as I write this is just how they would fit in the context of modern Christian medicine. I know that my father complained that there were very few places where he could practice the type of personal, caring medicine he believed in. I’m guessing that situation hasn’t gotten better. I also have to ask, when I consider things that I said such as “health care must be produced” (and it does), just what can and will motivate people to provide good health care. I know my parents weren’t motivated by money; they rarely had more than just what they needed.
I’m going to use this as a launching pad to get into discussing health care more broadly than I have, not just talking about what governmental programs might be proposed, but discussing what duties and opportunities the church has. And no, I will not forget end-of-life care either, which is close to my heart. But I’ve already written more than I intended in this initial post.
[I must add a brief commercial announcement, however, since I talked about my parents. My mother has written, and I published, a book on her experiences, Directed Paths, and my wife has co-authored a book on grief for Christians that rose out of our experience with our son who passed away at age 17. It is titled Grief: Finding the Candle of Light. OK, that’s all the commercial stuff!]