The hypocritical chaplain?
I normally see Andrew* riding his scooter, because he struggles to walk. We regularly chat and, occasionally, we have spoken of God and faith, but he has been adamant that God has no place in his life.
A while ago I received a referral informing me that he was really despondent. I caught up with him but he was not keen to open up so we talked about “the weather”. A few days later, as I left my desk thinking I would leave work on time for once, Andrew beckoned me over.
In tears, he explained he was in significant pain and that the doctor had told him he would lose the use of his neck and his good arm, consequently leaving him bedbound. He was devastated.
I listened as he spoke of all the situations he had faced in life and then overcome, yet here he was, losing control. He was terrified. The doctor had suggested treatment for the pain but Andrew held no hope of its effectiveness. I suggested he at least try the treatment. Distraught, he repeatedly begged me to provide him with a means of killing himself.
He explained he had already asked other people that day for help to kill himself. He assured me he would not tell anyone so I would not get into trouble. His cognition was crystal clear, his pain palpable. What could I say? I simply listened. He spoke of his work years ago in aged care and his discussions with colleagues about euthanasia being the only solution.
After many tears, I asked, “Would you like me to pray that God takes you?” “Oh yes,” he answered, so I prayed: “Father, draw Andrew to yourself”.
After receiving Andrew’s thanks, I then went and consulted our clinical staff about how best to care for him. We could all see the attraction death held for him: his situation was dreadful. The staff organised a mental health and palliative care referral, and appropriate care to prevent suicide. His son was informed.
Although I am a passionate opponent of euthanasia, my thoughts were conflicting. His pain was profound, both physically and existentially. From talking to the clinicians I knew that, medically, all hope had gone. Andrew had good cognition, serious pain and a terrible prognosis. I have a science background, so my mind suggested a number of ways to help him kill himself.
Over the next two weeks, I continued to pray with him about his request for his death, meanwhile constantly feeling hypocritical for not providing concrete help. I did not fear getting caught for euthanasia nor did my compassion fade. I simply cried inside.
Logically, I know why euthanasia is wrong. Theologically, I am convinced of its evil. Yet the question of why was I not loving Andrew enough to help him haunted me.
Today, as I leave my desk, I see Andrew approaching on his scooter. His first words are, “I don’t want to die anymore. The pain has stopped.” A smile lights up his face.
Will Andrew face more pain? Probably.
Will I endeavour to walk beside him and listen? Yes.
Will Andrew and I again pray “Lord, draw Andrew to yourself”? Yes. Will Andrew come to know Jesus’ love? That is my prayer.
Will I bury Andrew? Probably.
Would euthanasia have actually helped Andrew? No.
Frailty is more than just an ageing body. As I reflect on my experiences with Andrew I am struck by the challenges it presents to him now, to me as one who seeks to support him in God’s name, and to all of us as we face the truth of our own frailties.
Society’s answer to bodily frailty is euthanasia. Our answer needs to be compassionate care and the love of Christ.
* Not his real name