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Dying Well & Thoughts on Euthanasia

Caring for the dying impacts on us all.

There is much debate about euthanasia. Caring for the dying impacts on us all.

How we think about dying depends on our view of life. Hundreds of years ago people feared sudden death. The top priority was to prepare for death, so as to have a “good death”. But now many favour sudden death without pain. My point is not that either is right or wrong, but simply that attitudes vary over time or between cultures.

We fear death

But it can be seen as:

-       a doorway to eternity;

-       a time to learn to watch and pray in waiting;

-       discovering through patience those things that really matter in life. I give thanks that my father’s last (perhaps) words were, “The best things in life are free”;

-       an opportunity to share stories and blessings with family, like the Hebrew patriarchs.

Death also teaches us humility. The end of life finally makes clear that everything is gift. We all depend for everything on the world, others, and, if we so believe, our Creator Father God.

Practising Dying

Listening and Discerning

Medicine that is about caring will be about helping people live a full and natural lifespan, recognising that there are limits and that we can sometimes discern the moment when God is calling someone home. It will include listening to the family where possible as to what well-being means for them and their loved-one. 

(Though it is often putting too much on medical staff to expect them to do this - but it is something that can be encouraged where possible.)

This means that we will want to avoid

-       “Aggressive medicine” that carries on whatever the long-term prognosis

-       Making decisions without considering the well-being of the whole person

There will also be a realism about when the end of life is drawing near, helping all concerned prepare for and make that journey.

I suspect that much of the clamour for euthanasia or something similar is because for one reason or another life is held onto when there should be a healthy letting-go.

Pain Management

Retired Archbishop John Sentamu has pointed out the great progress of the hospice movement in this, and suggested that we need more research about pain-management. If decisions focused more on well-being then likely pain and future well-being will be more fully taken into account in taking clinical decisions. There might then be fewer interventions, more focus on pain management and a rediscovery of what a true “good death” can be.

Perhaps the desire for euthanasia by some is because we have failed to focus on well-being and have intervened far too often.

Death and Resurrection at the Heart of Worship

As Christians we put death (and resurrection!) at the heart of our worship. So Christian medics are well-placed to bring wisdom and leadership as our society seeks to get these things right.

If you are involved in medicine or care in any way, may God guide, encourage and lead you. Thank you for your splendid example in Christ to us all when you are under so much pressure.

Love, Martin



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