Christian Dignity and End of Life Care

Dying with Christian Dignity

Everyone’s ultimate cross and fate lies in death. For some death will come peacefully, others violently, while others will fight it to the end or meekly accept it. Whichever the case, all deserve dignity in their final moments. The Christian faith accepts death with dignity as a way of transformation from the temporal state to the eschatological state. In this transformation, life does not cease, but continues and is enhanced in the beatific vision for the just. Ultimately, even the temporal form of man, his body, will again taste life in the general resurrection.

Christianity faces death with dignity. It does not hope to trick death, fear death, or prematurely sacrifice oneself to it without greater cause. Christianity views death as the final cross and suffering where one  

Growing old and dying with Christian dignity involves accepting one's cross
Growing old and dying with Christian dignity involves accepting one’s cross

can offer his or her pains to Christ in one last redemptive manner for one’s own sins and the sins of the world. The ironic ideal of death and suffering giving life and happiness is manifested when a Christian puts his faith and hope in Christ and accepts his or her cross. The ultimate paradigms of Christ and his saints show one how to accept these final moments; moments that differ from person to person in every way but ultimately lead to one destination which is God.  Counselors of Pastoral Care need to emphasize this and help people understand it as death approaches with their end of life care .

While Christ and his saints offer great insight into the acceptance of death, I would like to go beyond the mere spiritual preparation that involves prayer, sacraments, and other pious rituals. I would rather look at how a Christian within the modern world of science accepts death. Does the Christian seek an easy death that involves euthanasia, or does he seek to extend his life through every scientific means to the point of losing self identity? These are difficult questions but the church has given some insight for not only primary caregivers, but also for those competent enough to make the decisions regarding life and death in correlation with Christian dignity.
The terms ordinary and extraordinary measures are the foundation for such decisions in determining whether to prolong or cease life. Ordinary medical measures refer to any proven methodologies within the medical community that are needed in order for life to be maintained. Such examples would be any basic medications or proven surgeries that can cure the ailment. As Christians, we are called to accept the crosses that come with these procedures and choose life at all costs. Extraordinary measures, however, are measures that sustain life that are beyond the basic measures. Extraordinary measures could include experimental drugs, unproven surgeries and high risk procedures with no sure or certain outcome. Also included within this idea are any methods that sustain life artificially. Christians are given the option to choose or deny extraordinary measures. If they so choose, an extraordinary measure can be applied but the right to accept the natural consequences of death with human dignity is fully accepted within the Christian tradition. Such decisions on extraordinary measures are usually made by the patient if still lucid, but later fall to the family in order of legal authority.
Christians are to accept death with faith and hope and are encouraged to utilize modern medications and procedures but when these procedures and medications become overbearing and unfruitful, a Christian may with confidence meekly accept the final cross of his or her life and with love meet God in the afterlife.  If you are interested in Pastoral Thanatology Certification, please review the program.

By Mark Moran, MA

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