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Summary: The first of a three part series that deals with end of life issues; this message defines terms and sets up the series.

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Ethics at the End of Life

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Today we are talking about a very serious subject. We are beginning a series about end-of-life issues. What is ethical at the end of life? People have struggled with this question and sought God’s guidance. This is a serious issue because we are talking about life and death and probably the last decision you will ever make and the last act you will ever perform in this life before you go before the throne of God. With what posture do you want to enter into his throne room–having been faithful to God the whole way, or having fumbled the ball on the last yardline, not taking it all the way into the end zone?

All of us want to be able to say what Paul did in II Timothy 4: 6-7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

When it comes to end-of-life decisions, how do we keep the faith, even to the very end? What is God’s guidance concerning the issue of “pulling the plug.” Is there a time to “pull the plug” or should hope burn eternal? Is “pulling the plug” murder, or is it allowing death to come naturally?

How about the withholding of treatment–is that ethical? Can I refuse treatment? How about living wills and advanced directives and the powers-of-attorney for medical purposes? What do I say, what do I fill in, and what do I tell my attorney concerning these issues? Perhaps some of these questions are facing you right now or perhaps you have already faced them.

As Americans we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As part of that understanding, do we also have the right to die or not? As Christians, do we have the right to die? What if, during natural death, I experience intractable pain or face the possibility of losing my dignity–is that a concern? Or is that something that’s more of a secular thought? Is this really not my main concern as a Christian? Is my own personal dignity a real priority in my life?

We are going to address these issues today as well as in the month of August. Again, this is serious because the discussion involves eternal issues as well as the welfare of our loved ones. It involves our own welfare, as well. We want the best for our loved ones and we want the best for ourselves as well. Some of you have had profound life-shaking experiences that are incredibly personal that have already formed your thoughts and the basis for how you make a decision. They are so potent and so vibrant that it is hard to listen to anything else.

I experienced the death of my grandparents and watched highly competent people become woefully incompetent. I looked into the face of my grandfather and didn’t recognize him anymore. How do we deal with that?

Two movies affected me as a young person. One in 1973 was called “Soylent Green” starring Charlton Heston. This depicted how horrible life would be in the future. The other movie was “Rollerball” in which a person dies and is in a vegetative state. As a young person, I imagined what it would be like to be a vegetable. I remember lying in my bed, trying not to breathe, and trying to imagine what that life experience must be like.

There were dozens of times when I was given the privilege to escort people from this life into the next. I was a chaplain on an oncology ward and I saw the process of dying over and over again. It is a profound and intense experience. If you have gone through that, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Our call is to take all the information we have and all our pre-judgments and set them aside for a little while and seek God’s wisdom, hear what God has to say to us, allow God to touch our lives on this very critical issue. Does his word give us light? Yes, it does.

This is an issue we must face and there are decisions we must make because they are forced upon us in our modern day. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the good old days when a person’s heart stopped and they stopped breathing, there was nothing that could be done. They were simply given into the hands of God. In this modern day, we have the ability to keep a person alive almost indefinitely. As a result of that, we have been forced to make some very critical decisions. Just because we can do it, should we do it? What is humane, what is merciful, and what is suicide? What is keeping the faith on these issues?

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