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Friday, March 2, 2018

"Departing in Peace" (Bill Davis)

TITLE: Departing in Peace: Biblical Decision-Making at the End of Life
AUTHOR: Bill Davis
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, PA: P&R Publishing, 2017, (328 pages).

Many of us have heard of situations where people had to make tough medical decisions pertaining to a terminally ill patient. Should we extend medical care at all costs just to keep the person alive? What if the person is brain dead? What if the only way to stay alive is through hospital ICU care and expensive equipment to sustain life? How can we make biblically sound decisions pertaining to extending or ending life? As far as euthanasia is concerned, is it our role to play God? Is there ever a justification to take away life? These are tough questions to answer, let alone navigate. That is probably why there are so few books and resources available to help us answer such tough questions. Thankfully, Bill Davis fills in the gap with this very helpful resource that is biblical and thoughtful. In this book, we have an A to Z guide on what to do with such issues. The list includes:

  • Biblical Principles: Stewardship; Authority to Decide; Honouring Life and Accepting Death
  • Medical Issues: Making EOL medical decisions (Coma; Mental consciousness; Terminal Illness; Permanent Tube feeding;...)
  • Ethical Issues: Knowing the limits and the wisdom of making decisions when one is mentally healthy
  • Legal Matters: Advanced Medical Directives 
  • Philosophical Issues: 
  • Financial Considerations: Is it ok to commit to sky-high medical expenses beyond our means?
  • Deciding between curative care vs comfort care
  • Deciding between extending earthly joy vs entering spiritual joy
  • Hospital Realities: Not exactly what Hollywood has painted them to be. 
  • Questions to Ask Doctors

The key principle in this book can be described as follows: "Permission to Decline Treatment: God’s Word permits us to decline life-sustaining medical treatment that is ineffective or that we, as servants of Christ, judge to be excessively burdensome." It is drawn from the 1988 PCA Study Committee Report on Heroic Measures at the End of Life. Davis also draws two foundational biblical principles: Stewardship of God's resources and Honouring God in all decisions. Davis goes through in detail many steps to make the life and death decisions.

Each chapter has a list of very thought provoking questions to consider.

My Thoughts
First, this is a topic which we need to be prepared for. Some of us may dislike salesmen. Whether it is a car salesman, insurance agent, or a sales representative watching over you at the store, we tend to shy away from them. Yet, one of the most helpful things from an insurance agent I met is this: "If you think of me, don't think of insurance. If you think of insurance, think of me." That is a catchy and enticing statements which put things in perspective. Life insurance is essentially helping us to plan our finance for the people we love. It is probably one of those things we could do to help those who will probably live longer than us. In some way similar, many people tend to shun topics of death and dying, until reality hits home through personal experience or when a loved one is suffering. When that happens, chances are, we will be scrambling for answers. We will search for ways to address issues we have never wanted to consider. We will seriously start thinking about end of life matters. Plus, there is great benefit in learning the glossary of terms so that we can speak intelligently and understand conversations around this topic.

Second, this book is a very well nuanced and balanced book that takes many factors into consideration. For instance, while human life is precious and to be cared for as much as possible, we are also reminded that earthly life is not our highest good. Even as we cherish the gift of life, we need to be aware of a time to die. While death has been defeated at the cross of Christ, the reality of life is that we are still in sin and we await the final arrival and coming of the eternal Kingdom of God. We also learn to distinguish between actual killing vs letting the person die a natural death. We get to see the complexities of each decision behind euthanasia or sustenance of life. Chapter 4 is a very useful chapter to help us see biblical principles in action in life-defining decisions. We also take a look at how each position has an equally valid counter. For example, the desire to keep a terminally ill patient alive vs the wisdom of stewardship of limited finances and medical resources.

Third, this is an immensely practical book, full of meaningful questions to ask medical professionals, pastors, teachers, and anyone seeking guidance with regard to end of life decisions. One of my friends working in a hospice has this to say: "When we have learned how to die, we would have learned how to live." This may seem paradoxical but it highlights the profound nature of life and death. Jesus died that we may live. People who went through a near-death experience came back with a fearless passion for life. We learn biblical principles. We have questions we could pose to doctors. We also have "leaving questions" to consider with our loved ones.

This is probably one of the best books written with regard to end-of-life decisions. In fact, sooner or later, we will come across end of life decisions either our own, our friends, or any of our loved ones. Pick up this book sooner rather than later. It is important.

Bill Davis holds an MA from Western Seminary California and a PhD from the University of Notre Dame. He is Professor of Philosophy at Covenant College and adjunct professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.

Additional resources can be found here.

Rating: 5 stars of 5


This book has been provided courtesy of P&R Publishing and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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