I just finished reading what may be Jack Spong’s final book, Eternal Life: A New Vision. If you like Spong, you’ll enjoy this one. It’s theology as autobiography and covers familiar Spongian turf.
One chapter that grabbed me was the epilogue, “Defining the Choice to Die.” Spong argues quite convincingly for what he calls “the personal and legal right to determine when and how I die.” (221) Of course, Spong carefully qualifies what he means and responds to several objections from the religious and medical side.
This is a conversation that we do not do well in the church, if it ever even comes up. We don’t do it well in families, either, and many families are unable to follow through on the wishes of dying loved ones. And yet it seems to me, in light of medical science’s ability to prolong life far beyond any kind of quality, that these are conversations we ought to be having.
Several years ago, I read about a pastor who had made a covenant with his wife, that should he develop Alzheimer’s (which, given his family history, was likely) and begin to lose his connection with the everyday world, that he would begin a fast toward death. What moved me most about the account, written by the wife who survived, was the way that decision honored life rather than diminished it. And so I’ve invited my family to make a similar covenant with me, to allow me in the face of an incurable disease, to enter into a holy fast and celebrate life as fully as possible through my last days.
How about you? Where are you and your family on end of life issues? How could the church help in clarifying our approach to the end of life?