A Time to Die

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QUESTION: Is there a right time to die? My 61-year-old brother is in the hospital on a respirator. The family wants to withhold medical treatment from him and let him die.

ANSWER: Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived by virtue of a gift from God. He certainly thought there was a right time for 'everything under the sun.' This included when to weep, mourn, and die (Ecclesiastes 3:2 - 8).

Like you, I had to decide whether the time was right or not to shut off life support for someone I love and let them die (if that was God's will). My experiences might help you in your own situation.

More than fifty years ago, I was married to a wonderful woman named Jeannette. We married when she was 21 years old. When she was just 24, after only three years of married life, she manifested a serious medical condition that affected her kidneys. She was soon placed on machines that helped keep her alive.

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Her illness got progressively worse until the doctors said that although her medical treatments might keep her alive for two or three more weeks, her remaining time would have no quality. I was also informed that, however long she lived, my wonderful wife would experience an increasing amount of pain.

I talked it over with Jeannette and together we decided that, in order to give her relief from further agony, the machines connected to her that kept her alive would be shut off. Within a few hours of "pulling the plug" she peacefully found her time to die. Although the decision to let her pass away sooner rather than later was incredibly difficult, to this day I have not regretted it.

Before she arrived at her time to die, I also asked Jeannette if an autopsy should be performed. She immediately replied, 'If it will help someone else to live, then I want it.' Discoveries made during autopsies have helped thousands of others since that day. If you know of someone who is on renal dialysis, you might consider giving a prayer of thanks for God's use of Jeannette's life to make part of it possible.

The advantage of life-sustaining equipment is that they provide relief from the body’s need to keep the vital processes functioning, thus making the healing process easier. Its kinda like putting a broken arm into a temporary cast to aid its healing. Considering this, the question becomes one of whether to provide help for the body while it heals, or to remove the support and force the body to work any healing process unaided should God choose to keep the patient alive.

Some people say we are attempting to play God by trying to keep a patient alive through life support means. Others say the exact opposite, taking the position that we are acting like a deity by removing needed machines sustaining a person's life and allowing the body to take its natural course by itself, which most times leads to death.

I personally do not subscribe to either of the above ideas, as God can take a person's life while he or she is on a respirator or prolong it if taken off. Only he knows what is best and does not need any advice from us.

Before making such a serious decision, take the time to have a family conference with the doctor regarding the likelihood of your brother living without the respirator. Also discuss what kind of quality of life he would likely experience both on and off the machines. If possible, discuss the situation with your brother. If he is capable of deciding for himself, you should abide by his choice even if it means he decides his time to die might be sooner rather than later.

Is taking your brother off life support and letting his likely time to die come sooner rather than later the right thing to do in God's eyes? Since only he knows what is ultimately right to do take the matter to him in prayer. He may even make the choice for you by relieving your brother of the burden of living while he is still on the respirator.

Regardless of what happens, try to make what is decided a family decision. Do your best not to let what is decided cause a rift between you and the family that, over time, will hurt more than the loss.

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