Thursday, July 19, 2007

Health Care Chaplains and Health Care Issues in the News

Well, between the incipient presidential campaigns (or have we already gone too far for to call them that?) and Michael Moore’s latest opus, health care is back on everyone’s radar. With that in mind, let me bring to your attention two articles worth reading and reflecting on. (And thanks to Episcopal Cafe, among others, for pointing these out.)

The first is a New York Times article (July 17, 2007) on the work of a chaplain. Titled “Offering Comfort to the Sick and Blessings to Their Healers”, it focuses on the work of one particular chaplain, the Rev. Margaret Muncie. Peggy is a valued colleague and a dear friend. The article offers a snapshot of her work; but those of us who know her, and know our professions, recognize that this offers only a glimpse. On the other hand, working in a ministry that often has difficulty distinguishing itself from other ministries gives me an appreciation of even a glimpse shared with the general public.

The second article is from Reuters, and is titled, “When to let go? Medicine's top dilemma.” The article is concerned with hard decisions about health care when death is probable and modern medicine is offering less and less benefit to the patient. Health care professionals struggle to recognize when care is truly therapeutic (likely to help with healing), and when care becomes futile (perhaps holding a status quo or slowing decline, but no longer truly therapeutic). As hard as they struggle to discern that threshold for themselves, they can find it even harder to discuss this with patients, and with families of patients who can no longer speak for themselves. We all saw this in excruciating detail in the case of Terri Schiavo in 2005, but these issues are wrestled with on a daily basis in health care institutions across the country.

I have written before of General Convention statements on health care, and especially at the end of life; and of a report to the 2006 General Convention on medical futility and a resolution that arose from that (a resolution that was, as I say, “Windsored:” so much time was taken in responding to the Windsor Report that this and other resolutions weren’t completed). The Reuters article brings this issue to the fore once again. Every opportunity we have to raise and reflect on this is worth taking

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