5 Myths about End-of-Life Care

This article is part of the 5 Myths series.

Myth #1: There’s no reason to discuss end-of-life care until the need arises. Who wants to talk about death?!

Few things halt conversation as quickly as the topic of death. It’s the vulgar consequence of the fall, the wages of sin worthy of our disdain (Rom. 6:23). No one relishes talking about it.

Yet stewardship of our God-given lives matters until the very end (1 Cor. 6:19–20), and too often imminent death deprives us of a voice when we most need to speak. Critical illness alters consciousness. Breathing support with a ventilator requires a silicone tube in our vocal cords, and to tolerate the tube, we need sedating medications that prohibit communication. Given these difficulties, when tragedy strikes, few of us can articulate our priorities, let alone prayerfully consider God’s will. If we postpone discussions of end-of-life care “until the need arises,” we risk undue suffering, and no conversation at all.

Our silence about end-of-life care can also heap crushing burdens upon our loved ones. When doctors can’t communicate with us about medical decisions, they reach out to our next of kin, many who feel ill-equipped for the role. Loved ones suffer high rates of depression, anxiety, complicated grief, and even post-traumatic stress disorder for up to a year after a family member dies in the intensive care unit.

Conversations about end-of-life care are uncomfortable and difficult. But in this era of complicated medical technology they are essential, with ramifications extending far beyond ourselves.

Myth #2: The Bible requires us to prolong life at all costs.

The Lord entrusts us with life and charges us to cherish it. He created us in his image, to steward his creation and to serve him (Gen. 1:26; 2:19–20), and the Bible clearly teaches us to treasure life and strive to glorify him in everything (Ex. 20:13; 1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 14:8). The sanctity of mortal life mandates that when struggling with an array of medical options, we consider life-sustaining treatments that can cure.

Yet sanctity of life does not refute the certainty of death (Rom. 5:12, 6:23). While the Bible guides us to seek treatments that offer hope of recovery, it does not compel us to accept interventions that prolong death or inflict suffering without benefit. “Doing everything” to save a life may be right. But when pursued without discernment, this approach can impose unnecessary suffering when prayerful compassion matters most.

Finally, when we blind ourselves to our own mortality, we deny the resurrection. We ignore that our times are in his hands (Ps. 31:15; 90:3), and dismiss the power of his grace in our lives, the truth that the Lord works through all things—even death—for the good of those who love him (John 11; Rom. 8:28).

As Christians, we rest in the assurance of a living hope that persists even in our final moments on earth.

Myth #3: God must heal me if I pray fervently enough.

God can and does heal. In my own clinical practice, he used a patient’s improbable recovery to draw me to himself. Throughout his ministry, Jesus performed miraculous healings that glorified the Father and deepened faith (Matt. 4:23; Luke 4:40). The Bible encourages us to pray in earnest (Luke 18:1–8; Phil. 4:4–6), and so if the Spirit moves us to pray for healing, whether for ourselves or our neighbors, we should do so with fervor.

Yet while we pray, we must attend to a critical distinction: although God can heal us, we must never presume that he must.

Death overtakes us all. When Christ returns, no disease will blot God’s creation (Rev. 21:4), but for now, we wait and groan as our bodies wither. We may perceive our healing to be the greatest good, but God’s wisdom surpasses even the most impressive reaches of our understanding (Isa. 55:8). God can perform miracles. Mountains melt before him, and he halts the sea in its landward charge (Ps. 97:5, Job 38:8–11). Yet the miracles that would fulfill our most desperate longing may not align with his divine and perfect will.

In the garden of Gethsemane, while the agony of the world bore down on him, Jesus prayed for escape, but also ended his prayer with, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). As Christ’s disciples, may we also seek to approach our Father with the same trust and humility.

Myth #4: Removing a loved one from life support is wrong.

God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to minister to the afflicted (Matt. 22:39; John 13:34; 1 John 3:16–17). As God so loved us, so we must extend ourselves in empathy and mercy toward one another (Luke 6:36; 1 Pet. 3:8; 1 John 4:7; Eph. 5:1–2).

Mercy doesn’t justify active euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, both measures with a singular goal of ending life. However, it does guide us away from aggressive, painful interventions if such measures are futile, or if the torment they impose exceeds any benefit. In many cases at the end of life, technology induces suffering, without offering hope for recovery. While we aim to preserve God-given life, Scripture doesn’t compel us to doggedly chase after measures if they inflict agony without hope for cure.

When aggressive measures will only prolong dying, a shift in focus away from cure and toward comfort can reflect Christian compassion. When a loved one cannot recover from a severe, terminal illness, removal of a ventilator can limit pain and discomfort, while the illness carries him or her home to be with the Lord. As heavily as these scenarios can weigh on our hearts, when undertaken with prayer and discernment, they can fulfill our call to love one another (John 13:34–35).

Between Life and Death

Kathryn Butler, MD

This book aims to equip Christians facing end-of-life decisions by simplifying confusing jargon and exploring biblical principles families need in order to navigate the transition from this life to the next.

Myth #5: There’s no hope at the bedside of the dying.

Even when life-threatening illness grips us, even when it distorts our lives beyond recognition, our identity in Christ—beloved, redeemed, made new—endures. As Christians, we rest in the assurance of a living hope that persists even in our final moments on earth: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (1 Pet. 1:3, Ps. 23:4). We rejoice that through Christ’s resurrection, “death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54–55). So vast is God’s love for us, so breathtakingly superb his sacrifice, that nothing can pry us from him. As Paul writes, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).

This broken world isn’t the end. Christ has vanquished sin, and as such our transient death withers before the assurance of renewed life. We rest assured of Christ’s promise: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26). God’s love for us in Christ Jesus surpasses all understanding, and no respirator, or monitor, or frightening disease can wrench us from his grip.

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