Christian Belief and the Medical Establishment, Part Two
By Fr. George Morelli
With all the bad news, there every now and then comes a good headline. Recently from the Associated Press came: “When it comes to saving lives, God trumps doctors for many Americans.” Basically this report said: that in a random survey of adult Americans 57% said God's intervention could save a family member even if physicians declared that treatment would be futile. And nearly three-quarters said patients have a right to demand that treatment continue. They went on to say that, “When asked to imagine their own relatives being gravely ill or injured, nearly 20% of doctors and other medical workers said God could reverse a hopeless outcome.”
However, accompanying the good news in this headline was another report containing a subtle message of humans who think they know the will of God: A physician was quoted saying : “Miracles don't happen when medical evidence shows death is near.” This was said by Dr. Michael Sise, trauma medical director at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, who called the study "a great contribution" to one of the most intense issues doctors face. This is the comment of a Catholic doctor working in a Catholic hospital, who said he was actually commenting on a recent study published in the Archives of General Medicine on end of life care.
The physician conducting this end of life study was Dr. Lenworth Jacobs, a University of Connecticut surgery professor and trauma chief at Hartford Hospital. It was pointed out that “trauma treatment advances have allowed patients who previously would have died at the scene to survive longer. That shift means hospital trauma specialists he said,"are much more heavily engaged in the death process." The physician went on to say he frequently meets people who think God will save their dying loved one and who want medical procedures to continue. The only bright light, at least partially godly, but also humanly sensitive was his response: "You can't say, 'That's nonsense.' You have to respect that and try to show them X-rays, CAT scans and other medical evidence indicating death is imminent.”
This leaves the question then when and under what circumstances can you ask God for help. Let us reflect on the words of Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Ageloglou. 1998) on this. The holy elder tells us:
“If we suffer from a disease and we want to be cured, we should see a doctor. If the doctor is unable to cure us, then we should ask God to work a miracle. We should do whatever we can be humanly achieved; the rest which is beyond our power, must be left in God’s hands.”
Priestmonk Christodoulos Ageloglou, the biographer of the holy elder recounts this incident: A father of a young girl diagnosed terminally ill went to Mt. Athos to visit the Elder.
“Father, all the doctors have reached the conclusion that my daughter will never recover, and all we have t do is wait for her to pass away. What do you think, is there any hope, can God do something about it:
You must never ask again if God can do something about it; it is a blasphemy. God created man and he can even turn stones into human beings; and you are asking whether He can do something about your daughter? Nothing is impossible or difficult for God, for ‘everything is possible for Him.’ The difficult thing for us to do is to overcome our disbelief and believe in Him without any hesitations. Therefore, you should pray to Christ with faith, without any hesitation. Don’t lose hope in Him. God allows for us to feel despair in order to trust Him. Our trust and hope in God never betrays us.”
On this same subject St. John Chrysostom tells us: “For a man to have such faith appears simple, but it is, on the contrary, something very lofty, not easily attained by many. Such faith is born of boldness before God; but such boldness comes (only) from pleasing God. Beloved, great labour is needed to acquire, through pleasing God, such boldness before Him that one firmly believes that he will grant all that one asks; as it is written, Ask, and it shall be given to you.
Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos. (1998). Elder Paisios of The Holy Mountain. Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain.
Lewis, C.S. (1961). The Screwtape Letters. NY Macmillan.
Morelli, G. (2005a, September, 22). What Do You Know: The Score Or The Saint? http://www.orthodoxytoday....
Morelli, G. (2005b, November, 13). The "Demon of Correctness": Religiously Correct Secularism. http://www.orthodoxytoday...
Morelli, G. (2006, September 05). Whose Church Do I Belong To: My Church or the Orthodox Church of Christ? http://www.orthodoxytoday....
Morelli, G. (2007a, February 04). The Spiritual Roots of Altruism: The Good Samaritan. http://www.orthodoxytoday....
Morelli, G. (2007b, December 17) Smart Parenting VIII: Fighting for Christ at Christmas -- Combating Secularism. http://www.orthodoxytoday...
St. John Chrysostom, The Gospel Commentary, edited by Hieromonk German Ciuba, 2002.