Medical Ethics and the Stewardship of Life
It's one of the best opportunities for Christian witness that one could have. I have to bring parents to understand what I had to understand when I lost my own child. There is no place for "what if" and "if only" kinds of questions. I understand from what I can reconstruct about my twenty-year-old son's death that if he could have taken the clip off his belt and hooked it into a piton, a two-second maneuver, he wouldn't have been killed. I could plague myself for the rest of my life with "if only" he had done it or "what if" he had the time to do it.
Families that are going to lose a child from something such as a tumor lose their child twice. They lose him when you finally make clear to them what the prognosis is and they lose him when his death finally takes place. The second death is a lot easier than the first death many times. One of the difficult things about a child who dies is that it isn't over as it is when your grandmother dies. Parents have problems with anniversaries. I have parents who call me on the anniversary of their child's death or they call me every year on the day after Thanksgiving, because it's become a custom. I receive more Christmas cards from parents of dead children than I do from parents of living children. There is what I call a ritual of closing the circle in families who lose a child in a hospital like this. They have to come back and talk to the doctor or they have to come back to the place where it all happened. That wraps the thing up neatly and they can put it to rest in a different part of their lives, where it's not going to produce acute anxiety and pain all the time.
Another thing that I'm very concerned about is the child who is expected to die and doesn't. That family is really an abandoned family. Let's say that Janey was expected to die of a tumor and sure enough the radiation therapy took hold and two years later she's called cured. Whereas the whole system is geared to the support of the parent whose child might die and whose child does die, few recognize the tremendous hole in the life of the family who has been living in the expectancy of a death and they suddenly realize that it's not going to happen. All the supports that were bolstering them up are withdrawn because the child is cured and they're almost frantic. These people have to be let down very, very carefully. l find that this is the time when families fall apart. The tragedy of the impending death of a child will keep an unstable marriage together but as soon as they're told their child is cured, then parents separate and the thing falls apart. The cured child as a patient is just beginning to get some of the attention he deserves.
You're working on a film with Francis Schaeffer. What's it about?
Francis Schaeffer and I have been working for about a year and a half now on a project called "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?" There is a book manuscript written and we have already filmed forty-five-minute documentary movies. The first three of these cover the subject of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. The last two are Schaeffer's alone and in them he presents his own Christian base and presents some authoritative answers based upon the Word of God to the problems we raise. We plan to take these films in the form of a two-day seminar in twenty cities in America, beginning in Philadelphia in the fall of 1979.