Compassionate Jesus: Rethinking the Christian Approach to Modern Medicine by Christopher W. Bogosh
“My medical education and work in the health care field exposed me to a worldview distinct from modern medical science that is radically anti-biblical. I call this worldview ‘modern medicine’, and it is different from medical science. Modern medicine possesses guiding philosophical principles, whereas medical science is merely an empirical method. All the sciences require a philosophical foundation to build on, and medical science is no different. As I pursued my theological education and continued to interact with the health care field, I started to see how these underpinnings challenged the major pillars of the Christian faith.”
In this book author Christopher Bogosh uses his medical experience and his theological training to fine tune his viewpoint of modern medical science. He points out to us the difference between the Christian worldview of life and death and today’s secular worldview of life and death. He explains how today’s modern culture has infiltrated its belief system into the Christian worldview, specifically in the medical field. Christians are often caught up into this philosophy unwittingly, and he calls us to take a closer look at how we view life and death. Two such viewpoints stood out to me: the monistic view of humanity…what you see is what you get. Medical instruments can measure what the physical body does. It can’t however measure the mind, which is part of what Christians call the soul. Most Christians are dualistic, we believe in a body and a soul. No one has access to my soul except for me and God. So how is it that modern medicine claims a person is brain dead when they can’t really tell if the soul has departed or not? All their instruments can tell you is lack of electrical activity in the brain. Their philosophy, or interpretation, tells them it indicates a person’s death. But is that really true?
The second viewpoint that struck a nerve with me personally is the assumption that some Christians believe it is God’s will to prolong life at all costs. When Jesus came to earth, He accepted the fact that he would only live to be thirty-three, which even in the time of Roman history was still a short life span. But Jesus came to do His Father’s will, and when it had been accomplished, He said as He hung on the cross, “It is finished.” So when Christians start grasping at anything to prolong our lives to the point of ruin or harm to the rest of our family and/or relationships, are we really following God’s will for us? Could we possibly be treating our lifespan as more important than doing what God wants us to do? If so, isn’t that a form of idolatry? Or to put it in other words, when is enough enough? This is especially true to consider when we are dealing with end of life treatments and care.
Back in the mid 1970’s my brother was 17 when it was discovered that he had leukemia. At the time, staging was a new concept. But when he arrived at the University of Michigan hospital, it was evident right away that he was in stage 4 already. His red blood cells were virtually non-existant. Before official chemotherapy was a household word, my brother came home a few times with a shoebox full of medications to take. He was sick all the time. His last week was spent in the cold inhospitable rooms of the hospital–alone. It wasn’t my parents’ fault he was alone. There wasn’t good communication or experience to know that my brother’s life was at an end. And so only 4 months after his diagnosis, he died alone in a room with no family around him. No one had believed it could happen that fast. If I had to do it over again, I would have wanted him to be home with his family around him. None of us at the time had ever heard of hospice care. And even at stage 4, we thought medical science could cure him or prolong his life.
Fast forward 30 years later, and my father had emergency valve replacement surgery. When his recovery did not move along at the rate the doctors expected, more tests were run. They discovered he had abdominal cancer, and as you may have guessed, he was also in stage 4. A lot of medical decisions later, and in spite of family discouragement, he was taking treatment with chemotherapy. It changed his quality of life drastically. Food didn’t taste good. He was more tired. He lost his hair. He slept all the time. He hurt everywhere and was cranky. Finally his body just couldn’t handle the chemical stress and he moved into Hospice care. From diagnosis to death, we were given only 6 months. Fortunately, Hospice helped to educate us on what to expect and we took full advantage of that knowledge. Had we any say about his chemotherapy, however, I would have recommended him not to take it since his body was already unhealthy and weak. My siblings and I would have opted for better quality of life with his family around him the last few months, rather than to prolong his life only a few more days or weeks.
Four months after Dad died my mom had a stroke. After rehab, she still couldn’t walk and ended up in a wheelchair and in an Assisted Living Facility. Fast forward to two years ago when Mom began losing ground. Normally able to move around on foot in a limited capacity, Mom could no longer do even that. When she appeared to have another stroke the hospital ran tests and discovered left ventricular aortic stenosis. She ended up in CCU intubated and heavily sedated, completely dependent on the ventilator to breathe for her. She was stressed; we were stressed. But she was still alert enough to make decisions for herself, and when the doctors offered a surgical alternative procedure that fit her physical state, she grabbed the opportunity. It didn’t work, and we had many decisions to make as siblings. Her insurance was good, and she also had some government insurance, being 81, but they were pressuring us and giving us little hope where she could live in her condition. As long as she was alert, she would not allow DNR orders. Just a week or two before the insurance would have forced us to move her to a facility out of state where they could have handled both her breathing tube and stomach tube, where it would have been a hardship for us to be by her side in her last days, she slipped into a coma, dependent on life support. My siblings and I struggled how to handle that. How long could she have survived in that condition? How much was enough? We opted for DNR and notified her family members to come and visit her. After a week, the life support was turned off, and a few minutes later Mom was in the arms of Jesus.
These accumulated experiences had my husband, my family and I discussing limits, living wills, hospice care, how to decide when enough is enough, and our wills and wishes if we should be hit with similar debilitating health issues. It would certainly have been the time to have this book to read. Before my mother’s situation, I had never even heard of palliative care, palliation, palliative teams, the difference between that and hospice care, what facilities can/cannot and will/will not do for certain stages of health and so on. And I was the informed member of the family since I’m the oldest (and unhealthiest) of my siblings. With the complexity of health care and insurance the way it is today, we all need to be forewarned and forearmed with information. But most of all, we need to keep all these issues within the purview of our Christian belief system.
The author, through this helpful book, guides our approach to medical science in the light of biblical teaching. In chapter 1, he expresses a Christian worldview for modern science, giving the name to this approach “Compassionate Health Care.” In chapter 2 Chris Bogosh considers some of the blessings and challenges medical advances make for Christians who desire to live out God’s purpose in their lives. He aids the readers in chapter three in the use of modern medicine in the biblical sense. In chapter 4, his focus is how to pray in the midst of illness, disease and death. In chapter 5 he discusses the pros and cons of the Hospice care movement which he believes comes fairly close to his own compassionate health care approach to medical science today. Finally, the last section of the book is a suggested reading list for those of us who wish to flesh out these thoughts a bit more.
While some may say that experience is the best teacher, I’d like to suggest that informed and prepared experiences are much more effective. This book is short enough to be read in a few sittings, yet pithy enough to provide us so much content to ponder and pray over. If you have aging parents and/or grandparents, you should read this book. If you are approaching a riskier stage of life with debilitating health complications, you should read this book. To know how to face death and serious health problems or help someone else face them, please, read this book. Then you may desire to take it a step further and create a living will for yourself and specific instructions for your loved ones. This book suggests you open dialogue with your family about your wishes in worst case scenarios. I pray that this book will guide you in your prayers for yourself, your friends and your family’s futures and above all else, aid you in staying in the center of God’s will.
A complimentary review copy was provided to me by Reformation Heritage Books and Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC). I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.