"Death Is Not the Enemy"

Ron Panzer
President - Hospice Patients Alliance
January 27, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

A simple statement, but one many choose not to accept, as if life including death were a cruel joke. We are tempted to rage against the inevitable suffering that comes our way. We often are. We see the hungry, the poor, disease, crime, violence and war, and we struggle to cope with it all, to take it all in and still cling to hope.

Some pretend these problems don't exist; some put it all out of their mind, losing themselves for a time in the pleasures of life. But suffering and death have a way of making themselves known, creeping along, persistent, nagging, never lagging far behind. Waiting patiently, suffering and death know that eventually all will succumb to their irresistible embrace.

Like a moth to the flame, we may struggle to survive without them, but eventually their attraction overpowers us and we are swallowed up.

In hospice, these issues move to center stage as dying unfolds. You see, it's not the oft' quoted, "death and dying," ... it's "dying ... and THEN death." And hospice is about serving those living through dying into death.

In hospice, as in everyday life, we wipe away the tears of those we care for, providing comfort and love. But that does not mean tears are "bad" or that dying and death are wrong. They simply are. How we respond to the challenges of life, including dying and death, is what life is really about.

These are opportunities to demonstrate in life who we are and what we're made of, what we can be and become. How we approach life determines how we die, how we live while dying.

It is ironic that those who have reverence for life, more readily accept death when it comes in its own timing, while those who think little of ending the lives of OTHERS (the vulnerable) struggle through life and struggle in dying. Reverence for life gives birth to a grace that carries man through life.

Those who reject that grace neither understand the meaning of life nor do they know how to die with grace. They fight to control everything in their lives and knowing they cannot prevent death, they seek to control death's timing. They cannot put death off forever, so they hasten death: this way, they still delude themselves into thinking they are in "control." They fear loss of control even more than death itself!

For these, it's about power, control, refusal to surrender to the rhythms and cycles of life. Out of place throughout their lives, out of time, out of grace, like fish out of water, they struggle all the way through life. Never finding peace, never accepting God's design, they seek to dominate whatever they touch.

Of course, this explanation is offensive to them, because their worldview is completely opposed to basic reverence for life. They hate those who revere life, and they hate the truth of life itself. They seek to change reality to suit their design.

Nevertheless, the reality of life remains: those who seek a hastened death reject the basic vulnerability of life and reject what they see as the ultimate humiliation of death. As they go through life, they choose to conquer nature, death and dying, however they ultimately fail, for death and dying are part of the cycle of life.

Fearing vulnerability, loss of control, they choose predictability. When in control, they decree death to any who stand in their way, who might disturb their plans, their "self-ordered" life. Their answer for unwanted babies who might disrupt their plans? Abortion. Their answer for unwanted dependent others who might require the total reversal of their plans? "Euthanasia."

How do they justify this killing? Any way they can. When it suits the death-dealers' plans to kill, they cite concerns about individual rights to privacy and "autonomy." But if individuals choose to save the lives which the self-appointed death-dealers deem to be "unfit" and useless, they do not respect the privacy rights of the parents who wish to save the severely or moderately brain-injured, mentally retarded or ill, or save their unborn or newborn, the death-dealers try to impose death and cite "beneficence" for the benefit of society as a whole, arguing that "scarce" health care resources should be rationed for those who can "most" benefit.

Death-dealers do not truly respect the right-to-privacy of the individual; they respect the right to kill of those who choose to kill. Their duplicity is exposed when individuals choose life. Then the death-dealers exert as much pressure as they can to force the individuals to choose death, or they manipulate situations to end the lives of those they deem "unfit" for life. Parents of congenitally disabled children can tell unending stories of how some physicians and nurses tried so hard to intimidate them into NOT treating their children and somehow "let them die."

The culture of death is founded upon a basic fear of life's unpredictability, uncontrollability, life's inevitable suffering and death. Those who embrace the culture of death cling to an illusory sense of man's supremacy and domination of nature. Man can never dominate ALL of nature, for man is finite and the universe is infinite.

If there is anything one can learn from scientific exploration, either of the macrocosm or the microcosm, it is that there is always another level of understanding and reality. Molecules give way to atoms; atoms give way to nuclei, protons and electrons, and these give way to subatomic particles. Beyond these, our conception of what exists is inadequate to describe the reality. "Where" an electron "is" at any one moment in time has been determined to be not any one "place," but rather physicists talk of the probable set of all possible locations it may be, like a "field."

And there is vastly more "space" within each atom than identifiable particles. Yet, we perceive objects in our world (which sub atomically have more space than particles) as "solid."

Looking outward toward the vastness of the universe, physicists exploring the universe now state that there is more "dark matter" (which is not even perceivable by our senses at all) than there is matter which we observe as the planets, the stars, galaxies and physical universe! And our understanding of "black holes" and how they shape the universe is only beginning.

In the face of the constantly expanding understanding of reality, many physicists find themselves humbled and in awe of the vast Creation. However much man achieves, however much man understands, there will always be new frontiers, new challenges and new setbacks. True scientists exalt in the pursuit of knowledge, yet understand the never-ending nature of the quest.

Science uncovers ever-unfolding mysteries of reality, yet it creates none of it. Man's technological manipulation of matter and energy is not the creation of new matter and energy, and the inventiveness that allows man to shape his world is a gift given to him by his Creator.

Yet those who refuse to give credit to the Source of their gifts stubbornly worship their own achievements and deny the very existence of God. They ignore the pervasive order and intelligent design found throughout Creation.

The shallow understanding of those enamored with the creations of man, insanely ascribe all of Nature's intelligent design to chaos and chance. When flaws in their theories are exposed, they stubbornly dig in their heels and ridicule anyone who has faith in God. They fail to recognize that the very basis of the science they exult in, is the intelligent design of the Creator. They loudly proclaim the nonexistence of God with their limited understanding.

Science and religion are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, faith explains the basis for natural law and science. Science has no flaw. The flaw rests in man's pride, which refuses to acknowledge the source of his gifts, and in that pride which impels him to misuse his gifts. The greater man's abilities, the greater the technological application of science, and the greater the good and evil man may accomplish.

To strive for achievement is natural to man. To improve, create, modify the environment, cultivate the land, explore, ... all natural and good. Yet, however far man travels, however much he achieves, however much he learns, the basic limitation of life remains: dying and death immovably stand waiting for every man at the end.

Each day unfolds as a new opportunity to do, create, achieve, and each night man must start all over again. There is a famous story, the myth of Sisyphus, which tells of a man whose task it was to roll a huge stone up a hill all day - only to find that when he was just about to reach the summit, the stone was thrown down to the bottom of the hill again by some unseen force. Sisyphus was destined to start anew each day, never reaching the summit, never completing his task.

To some, the message is that man is cursed by the gods and that as a symbol, life is unfair. To others, the story simply explains a reality of life that man's work is never done and that the summit of perfection is beyond man's grasp. In accepting and surrendering to this truth, the humble man steadily applies himself toward his life's goal and makes steady progress. However, he knows that ABSOLUTE perfection will never be achieved and finds peace.

The proud man cannot accept life's limitations, cannot accept the humiliation of not being in control. The proud man cannot accept the utter humiliation of dying, suffering and death, and all they represent.

Man's overarching pride, his "hubris," makes him seek to elevate himself and become like a god. Man may play with the building blocks of life created by God and think himself great. Man learns more and thinks himself even greater. But man creates nothing, FROM nothing. He only creates from that which is given to him, using the mind and abilities given to him by God. Though man prospers for a time, the seasons of his life inexorably move on till old age: disease and death swallow him up.

Like waves in the ocean, tides come in and tides flow out. Storms rage and storms recede. Cycles are an unavoidable part of life. And the seasons of life are just as unchanging as the seasons of the year. While many prefer Spring, Summer or Fall, Winter eventually arrives laying bare all that once blossomed with the splendor of youth.

Every season has its place and so with every season of life. Childhood, youth and the productive years are only part of it all. And each stage has its purpose and contribution to the whole. Each step has meaning for the individual and for society. The joyous state of childhood brings joy to the others. The wisdom of elders brings peace and prosperity to those who follow its instruction.

While children learn from their elders, their dependency evokes the passion for caring from all around. And that passion for caring motivates much of what we call the activities of man.

Men and women awaken every day and get to work creating and maintaining the conditions that nurture and support their children, their families and their very lives. People care about something, someone - or they wouldn't work at all. They have a passion of caring, for themselves at the very least, and for their families and friends.

Whatever man does, caring is at the root of his activity, even war and violence. However, the span of one's circle of caring determines the path each person takes. If you love someone, his life acquires value in your eyes. You care about him and what happens in his life. If you love all, you will care and be concerned about all. If your heart is open to others, you will reach out to each person you meet.

Having an open heart and caring imply a vulnerability to the experiences of life, vulnerability to both pleasure and pain. And having an open heart allows us to live fully as we travel through life.

Open hearts do not foment the winds of war. And open hearts do not turn away from those in need. Open hearts do not kill the vulnerable.

But those with small circles of caring, caring only for themselves, and their own, foment war or violence. They do turn away from others in need. They do not hear the cries, the pleas for help or merciful caring and service.

For those who are open, the dependency of others evokes the caring attention of those more able, to serve: the elderly, the ailing, the disabled and vulnerable. The elderly, ailing and disabled contribute much to society, though the shallow do not understand it. They give much more than dollars and cents measurements can tell.

For although the law and courts mete out judgments in terms of money and property to make a person "whole" or to "right" a wrong done, the wrongs done by man to man cannot truly be erased; the wronged cannot truly be made "whole" through actions of the court. "Justice" as envisioned and implemented through the courts is only partial, imperfect and not real "justice."

The law and the courts do not deal in a currency that makes man "human" or "humane." The law and the courts cannot understand or fathom the meaning of love or tenderness or caring. They cannot truly repair the brutality done by man's injustices to man. The courts and attorneys can only feebly attempt to right some of what is done. Dollars and cents cannot compensate for the loss of even one smile, one friend, one child, parent or even one tear of joy or sorrow. The most powerful of judges are merely men, and possessed of the same flaws and limited perceptions of any other man.

Judges and attorneys fancy themselves superior to lay people. They fancy themselves part of an elite clique, and so they are: members of the modern-day aristocracy. However, with all their power, they cannot determine the value a loved one's life may hold for those who care. Only one who loves and cares has insight into another's worth. Only one who is part of that life, involved in that life, understands a bit of the worth of that life.

And what of the physicians who toil to care and cure? Dedicated physicians can only make feeble attempts to prevent the pain, suffering and death that are part and parcel of life. Like someone standing at the ocean's edge, trying to stop even one wave from coming in, physicians are helpless to stop the oncoming storms of life, including death. Though scientists and physicians seek to find cures for all life's ailments, there is always another mountain to climb, once any one disease is understood, prevented or cured.

It is a terrible blunder for society and its government to allow attorneys, judges, courts or physicians to hold the power over life and death of the vulnerable. From where did they get the authority to do so? How is it that mere men can determine who is to die and who may live based upon arbitrary and shifting standards of what they call an "acceptable" quality of life? For the life of man is given by God, who understands life's purpose, which man can only glimpse and intuit over time.

Judges, attorneys and physicians may have contact with the individual. They will and do pontificate about the individuals, but they do not live with nor serve the individual day after day. They do not choose or rule from the heart. They have simply assigned to themselves power over life and death that the founders of our nation never intended them to have. The tyranny of the courts is bolstered by those attorneys and physicians who subscribe to a lethal philosophy that knows no principle but death, and changes its standards to accomplish a predetermined end.

Attorneys, judges and the courts cannot measure the worth of anyone's life, for the "worth" of someone's life is not a matter of dollars and cents, the only currency the courts recognize. What is the worth of an elder's smile or story to a wide-eyed child? What is the worth of the ailing who bring out the very best in humanity? What is the worth of the disabled who are admired for their courage and achievement in the face of adversity, and who again, bring out the best in humanity, in those who choose to serve and recognize their brother and sister in all those who come before them?

The heart of a servant belongs to every one who cares, and those who care, choose to serve. In serving, their caring grows into love. These are those who enter into health care out of dedication and compassion. There is great value to man in serving: it is not only the basis for relationships in life, but also the very foundation of all commerce, invention and trade.

Those in the summer of their lives may serve those who find themselves at the winter of life, but each one's life has its value that those without love cannot begin to know. Men without love are those who fear life's reality and crave power above all. They decree death to the different, the elderly and vulnerable; they make expressions of faith they do not understand, a "crime."

They lecture the world about separation of church and state, the "privacy" rights of those who choose to kill and the "justice" in denying food and sustenance to those who cannot survive on their own. They proclaim the "dignity" of death in the murder of the innocents and call killing "mercy," rather than giving mercy. They glory in efficiency and their own self-perceived brilliance and have no idea what made this nation great.

Yet, there are still those who understand what it means to be free and think for oneself; there are still those who choose to live lives permeated with a basic reverence for life and God.

The value of a life is "measured," in part, and can only be "measured" in part, by those who love and serve them. Mother Teresa of Calcutta demonstrated a life of merciful living, not mercy killing. She cared for each one she met, seeing God's spark of life within each one. Setting the example not only for those in her religious order, but also for all mankind. Her vision and lifelong service demonstrated the heart of what hospice is supposed to be and can be.

Caring can never be killing the one that is loved, and killing the one that is loved is never caring. Even though we hear of "mercy killings," sometimes perpetrated by husbands or wives who assert their "love" for the ailing spouse, it is a lack of understanding of God's ways that prompts the ignorant man to kill.

When suffering is great, there is always something that can be done to lessen suffering, including loving support, relief from pain, and "being there" as a co-traveler through life. Although we seek to cure the sick and relieve suffering, sickness and suffering are part and parcel of the process of life. Birth is a gift of the Creator, and so is death, however most people do not think of death as a gift.

There comes a time when people are ready to die. When the unfinished business of life is done, when a person is ready to "go home." Hospice professionals know very well that when a dying person speaks about "going home," quite often the meaning of "going home" has nothing to do with the physical location, but has everything to do with letting go of this life naturally, and moving on to the next life.

Death is commonly seen by the truly imminently dying, as "going home." Yet, there is a beauty and intimacy in sharing the last moments of someone's life. Those who have not immersed themselves in lovingly "being there" for a dying man have no understanding of the immediacy and intimacy impending death bestow. And those last moments of life are sacred beyond words. To those who love, there is no price that could compare with the worth of a few more moments with the one that is loved.

To deliberately kill the object of one's love is so incomprehensible to those who love, that the suggestion by limited minds and shallow thinkers, secular bioethicists, humanists, that "mercy" lies in killing, is preposterous and perverted. Only those who have completely lost touch with loving an individual, who don't even enter into the spirit of love, could propose such monstrous actions, let alone kill in the name of so-called "mercy."

Such "mercy" is motivated, at least when it comes to the decisions of the courts and governments, on huge financial gains for budgets and for the men who control those budgets. The public is manipulated with carefully crafted and deceptive language so that what is abominable in the sight of God is considered "right" by the gullible masses. And they only learn the truth when untimely death is foisted upon their loved ones in the name of "mercy."

Our nation was founded upon the principle that all are CREATED "equal." Certainly, the concept of "equality" does not imply "equality" in ability, talent, gifts or individual characteristics. The founders of our nation were referring to an equality of worth in the sight of God who created each life. There is no reference in the founders' writings to the relative "quality of life" of a life, which would make one life more "worthy" of life than any other. There is only the transparent and obvious reverence for the life given by God.

Those who have NOT lost sight of the Creator do not begin to presume to judge the worth of, or to end another's life. And those who have not lost sight of God know that we are here to learn, to serve and to know that there is wisdom in accepting the changes that come with life with grace. They know that dignity cannot be bestowed by cold-hearted, ruthless politicians or judges who railroad the innocent into death. A death with dignity springs from a life lived in dignity and nothing else!

There is no bridge that can join the alien and harsh terrain of the worldview that has no room for God, no reverence for life, with that of the faithful who cling to the original mission of life and hospice and health care.

Those who have not lost sight of God know that it is rebellion against God's Supremacy that leads to the shallow and deluded worship of man's accomplishments and all the evils that follow from that worship. What do the barbarians of death who propose a new "right to accelerated death" know of the tenderness that comes with ardent devotion to the Lord? What do they know of the worth of a sunrise or sunset, or of the wind that flows across the plains? The real enemy is not death or even suffering. The real enemy is man's own overarching, arrogant pride.

When we remember the Creator, we realize that death is not the enemy. When we recognize the spark of life in each one we meet, we understand the inexpressible worth of life and give and care with everything we've got.