PCS1494 – Outliving Doctor’s Expectations

by Camille Pauley

Some years ago, after delivering a pro-life talk at a church, I was confronted by a woman who accused me of being irrational and insensitive because I didn’t think it was right to euthanize people who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Her feeling was that the knowledge you were going to die soon presents a cruel and unusual burden on people, and that euthanasia, or the abortion of terminally ill unborn children, was the only tolerable solution.

But the argument in favor of euthanizing or aborting someone simply because he or she is going to die of a terminal illness is not only cruel, it is illogical. Everyone is going to die eventually; and some healthy people will die sooner and younger than people who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses – perhaps through accident, acts of nature, or acts of evil intent.

Knowing that you are going to die within a certain period of time does not mean that your life no longer has meaning and purpose.

Furthermore, physicians are frequently wrong when they tell someone how long they have to live. I had the opportunity to experience this personally when my own beloved father became ill.

Dad was an adventurous guy with a showman’s heart and an amazing sense of humor. But his very poor health habits took its toll on him at a young age, and by his late 60s, he had developed multiple illnesses, including severe diabetes, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer), and total failure of one kidney. Following his second massive heart attack, his doctor told him he had two weeks of life left to live.

Two months later, Dad was back at the doctor’s office. The doctor looked at him sternly and asked, “How do you feel?”

“I’m in pretty good shape, for the shape I’m in,” Dad said, winking. “I feel fine.”

His doctor frowned and then said, “You know, it’s going to be any day now.”

“Okay,” said Dad, cheerfully, and then left to run errands and host some friends at his house for their weekly movie night.

Two years later, Dad was still alive. He was still living on his own, getting out of the house from time to time, and enjoying his grandchildren. Finally, during a visit to one of his four doctors (all of whom kept reminding him that he was going to die soon), the doctor threw up his hands and said, “I just don’t know what to do with you. You keep outliving all my predictions.”

My father did eventually pass away, shortly after that visit. He died with grace, filled with hope for the life to come, and surrounded by people who loved and admired the witness to life that he had always been.

I think there are two great lessons to learn from my father’s death. Doctors are not God. They cannot always tell you how long you are going to live, and they are frequently very wrong. Furthermore, doctors cannot tell you what kind of quality of life you are going to have. If you choose to live for faith, hope, and love – no illness, no matter how “terminal,” can ever diminish your quality of life.

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