Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Who is worthy?
I have heard repeatedly the concerns of his age and previous ill health and the suspicion that he was somehow or other bumped up from the bottom to the top of the transplant list because of who he is. His more than 20 month wait, I am told, is actually a bit longer than usual. Underneath this challenge, however, are two things. One is political. People who opposed his politics are more likely to believe that he was not a good candidate for that transplant. In the discussion is another, even more alarming perspective. That is the judgment that he was unworthy of this heart and it was a waste of the resource due to his age.
Perhaps I am taking this personally. My father was 83 years old when he had both knees replaced. It was an expensive procedure and, of course, Medicare paid for it and for the rehab that followed. Now, nearly two years later, he continues to work from early morning until supper time at the business he began, a hardware store and doing HVAC, electrical, and plumbing work. Now my Dad was 12 years older than Chaney was at the time of his surgery and, if a case could have been made that Chaney was too old, surely my Dad was "too old."
Apart from that, the whole idea of worthy or productive is foreign to Christian thinking in general. We recall how it was while we were yet sinners and enemies of God, Christ came. We confess that there was nothing of merit in us which deserved the largess of God's mercy and grace showered upon us. We affirm that it is purely by grace and not by works or merit or worth that we have been saved. We insist that this mercy principle is the defining nature of the good works we do in Christ that glorify God and manifest to others what we ourselves have received from God.
Now, I am NOT saying that everything must or should be done medically for every patient. I am saying that each patient must be approached individually and the best interest of that patient may mean that treatment may be provided or may not. We apply our Christian values to the particular situation, guided by the morality shaped not by usefulness or productivity or worth but by the love of Christ and the recognition that life is God's, that we are stewards and not masters of this sacred trust of life, that we must do no harm first and foremost, and that physical death is not the end but the gateway to the everlasting life that is His gift to us in Christ (to us and all believers in Christ).
But... we must be careful here about treating life as a commodity, about placing artificial values upon life, and about using cost effectiveness as the primary or even one of the most important values brought to bear upon health care decisions. We already have seen reproductive technology used to eliminate fetuses which are thought to have physical or mental defect. We have already heard of how health care law may be used to determine which procedures may be precluded because of age, health of the patient, or cost effectiveness. My point is this: once we begin to decide who is too old or too sick or too defective or too expensive to treat, we have turned God's gift of life into merely another commodity like others on the store shelves or traded in the marketplace. Is that not the very thing that wars have been fought to prevent? How can it be that we who lived through the transformation of Blacks from fractional humanity of marginal worth to full citizenship suddenly now turn around and suggest that this person or that is less than fully human and therefore worth less than our full attention or care. It is life that is worthy -- not the potential within that life or its return to us or even its cost to us. There has got to be a better way...