In a sermon at Westminster Cathedral, Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, complained about the confused modern attitudes regarding death. “In the care of the dying there is so much disquiet and dispute today: campaigns for assisted suicide and euthanasia; fears of unrelieved suffering and loss of control; fears of over-treatment – that is, of inappropriate aggressive medical interventions as life nears its end. Then there is the opposite fear of under-treatment or neglect – sometimes, for instance, food and water may be simply put in front of patients unable to feed themselves who are then noted as having refused their food. We do not know how to deal with death. But fear cannot be our guide.”
Instead, he said it was important to balance our yearning for life and an acceptance of death. “There are two things that need to be kept in mind in end of life care: respecting life and accepting death. Respecting life means that every person must be valued for as long as they live. One implication of this is that death should never be the aim of our action or of our inaction. We should never try to bring about death. On the other hand, accepting death means that we should prepare properly for death. One implication of this is that we should not deny the reality of the situation or flee from the inevitable by seeking every possible treatment. A religious person will see both life and death as coming from God.”
This is the balance that every caregiver must strike. How do we care for someone fighting a disease while also realizing the time may come when “fighting” is no longer the appropriate word to use?