Skip to main content

Mere Orthodoxy exists to create media for Christian renewal. Support this mission today.

Medical Costs and End-of-Life Deliberations

July 21st, 2008 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

File this one under the “Questions worth Asking” category.  Rob Moll has an excellent summation of a few articles highlighting the way medical expenses are altering how we think about end-of-life decisions and the recommendations doctors make:

Certainly life is priceless. But is more life equally invaluable?

Dying is different these days. Once, vast resources could go toward treating a man suffering from a heart attack. If he lived, he could continue living for decades, and those resources justifiably provided years of good living. Now, people die slowly, consuming those vast resources over the course of years–and often crippling relatives financially.

Economic factors shouldn’t be ignored in making end-of-life decisions.  We are not a country of infinite resources, and even if we were it is not clear that we ought devote infinite resources to the preservation of this life.  Sometimes letting go is the responsible thing to do.

Of course, such questions are excruciatingly difficult to answer. Moll frames them well:

Yet, what is that extra time worth? Any universal health care system seems unlikely to provide expensive and marginally beneficial treatment. The government would decide it’s not worth $1 million in taxpayer money to give an 85-year-old six more months of life. But unless and until the state starts making those decisions for us, we Christians need to think this one through: How much is longer life worth?

Here’s another one: How should pastors help their parishoners to make that choice. This is enough. It’s time to see God.

Moll’s language of “unless and until” seems to suggest that Christians ought deliberate about such questions only as a stop-gap until the government makes the final determinations.  I would disagree with him here, and argue that it is family’s job, not the government, to make these judgments.  But that quibble doesn’t answer his underlying question:  when is it time to say goodbye?

Of course, the question is almost certainly unanswerable in the abstract.  But sometimes the asking is more important than the answering.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.