Only a few families face firsthand the critical medical decisions surrounding care of a handicapped newborn, yet the “Baby Does” of America have been at the center of public debate and controversy throughout the 1980s. Looming ahead is a related challenge: caring for the incapacitated elderly and terminally ill at a time when high-tech medical options present bewildering treatment choices. Families facing this dilemma vastly outnumber those coping with handicapped infants.

Professionals in the fields of medicine, law, and ethics are scrambling to delineate realistic guidelines about treatment and care in the face of a growing popular movement supporting the “right to die,” as well as increasingly organized opposition to any decision that points in the direction of actively assisted euthanasia. It is a tension of special concern to the Christian community, as a primary provider of health care to the elderly through hospitals and nursing homes. However, the debate over treatment and its termination has not been joined by many Protestant ethicists, and at least one prominent ministry was caught off guard when the issue arose.

Crista Nursing Center, Seattle, Washington’s premier Christian home for senior citizens, is run by Crista Ministries as part of a far-reaching, $30 million nondenominational initiative that includes a relief organization (World Concern) and a service providing listings of Christian vocational opportunities, (Intercristo). In 1985, an elderly woman in the nursing center suffered strokes that left her unable to swallow food and water. The strokes made tubes necessary to assist her to take nutrition and hydration. Her family obtained medical certification that she had no chance ...

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