A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families is the latest in the Studies in Christian Ethics series edited by Daniel R. Heimbach. The book is divided into four sections with the first two chapters defining the general topic of Christian bioethics and presenting its historical development over past centuries. The next three sections focus on issues broadly categorized as Taking Life, Making Life, and Remaking/Faking Life.
As a new nurse with a background in geriatric social work, I found a few of the chapters especially interesting. Human Dignity and Dying begins with a case study on family disagreement about taking an ICU patient off a ventilator. The discussion explores what people value at end of life, the importance of advance directives, and the problem of pain. Aging and Life-Extension Technologies includes a discussion on the bizarre ideal of somehow creating immortality through technology. This extreme view is contrasted with the Biblical view of old age and path to true immortal life in Christ. I would have preferred the chapter to focus less on fringe ideas and more on commonplace scenarios occurring every day in hospitals and nursing facilities across the country.
The dilemma of continuing life-sustaining treatments, providing effective pain management to relieve suffering, and prolonging the dying process or allowing a natural death is one of the most difficult scenarios ever faced by families. More practical guidance is needed for how health care providers and spiritual advisors can best offer education and support in these situations (for example, when a 90-year-old with advanced dementia is no longer able to eat or drink by mouth). I read in the news today about a man that emerged from a “vegetative state” after twelve years and reports being fully aware of his surroundings during most of that time, which certainly raises more questions than answers in the right to life debate.
I enjoyed the conversational format of this book, in which a philosophy professor and physician discuss the theological and medical implications of these controversial topics, as well as abortion, assistive reproduction, assisted-suicide, genetic engineering, and organ donation. Additional pressing ethical topics could have been included, such as immunizations and the economics of health care, but this would have led to a much longer volume. Anyone concerned about the Biblical basis for life and death questions in a technologically-advanced world would benefit from the authors’ dialogues in this easy-to-read beginner’s guide to bioethics.
Required Federal Trade Commission disclaimer: I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest appraisal.