I am at a conference on “Law, Religion and Health in America” at Harvard. So, this caught my eye today. Vanderbilt surgeon Myrick C. Shinall, Jr. has just published “Christians and Aggressive End-of-Life Care” in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. Here is the abstract:
Patients or their family members sometimes give religious reasons for requesting life-sustaining technologies that have little hope of restoring health. This poses an ethical challenge for clinicians and a potential strain on limited health-care resources.
Among Christians, one explanation for a preference for aggressive, life-prolonging care is the influence of the idea of martyrdom, which became the normative form of dying in early Christianity. The ancient discourse of martyrdom and the modern discourse of aggressive medical care both share a martial orientation and commend an ethos of combat.
This paper examines ancient Christian martyrdom discourse to illuminate its affinity with the discourse of aggressive medical care. The ethos of martyrdom has shaped Christian attitudes toward death such that preference for aggressive medical care at the end of life is understandable.