LISTEN: The Hardest Conversation You’ll Ever Have, Part 3 (Preparing for the Inevitable #29 with Daniel Whyte III)

Daniel Whyte III
Daniel Whyte III

The Bible says in Hebrews 13:14: “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”

The featured quote for this episode is from J.R.R. Tolkien. He said, “Is death the end? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”

Our topic for today is titled “The Hardest Conversation You’ll Ever Have, Part 3” from the book, “The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come” by Rob Moll. And, I want to remind you to take advantage of our special offer. If you enjoy this podcast, please feel free to purchase a copy of this book — “The Art of Dying” by Rob Moll. It is available on our website for just $20.

— What to Ask

In his essay “I Want to Burden My Loved Ones,” Gilbert Mei-la-ender gently argues against the application of living wills or advance directives as the modern fix-all to the tendency of doctors to rely too heavily on medicine. We say we don’t want to burden our families with making difficult choices when we cannot make medical decisions on our own, so we turn to legal documents that outline what we would and would not want should we ever be unable to tell a doctor ourselves.

But Meilaender, a professor of theology at Val-pa-rai-so University and member of former President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics, says that this appeal to a piece of paper overturns what families are supposed to do—carry each other’s burdens. When we allow someone else to care for us, make decisions for us, Meilaender says, we most often discover that they are willing and eager to pick up our burdens.

“It is, therefore, essential,” Meilaender writes, “that we structure the medical decision-making situation in such a way that conversation is forced among the doctor, the medical caregivers, the patient’s family, and perhaps still others, such as a pastor.”

Meilaender says that advance directives are not bad or wrong. But it is best when a range of people—family, doctors, pastors and someone appointed by the patient with legal authority to make decisions—are a part of the conversation about what medical care a patient desires. When an advance directive helps get these conversations started, it can go a long way toward directing a patient’s medical care, because patients and families need to talk about these tough issues. That is the main benefit. Having a legal document in support of the patient’s expressed wishes that can be used to ensure those wishes are acted on is a side benefit.

When a possibly terminal disease has already been diagnosed, it can be helpful to guide the conversation around the possible outcomes. John Dunlop, a gerontologist, says there are several questions to ask doctors about a terminal illness.

• What is the exact diagnosis? Learn all you can about the disease and how it will affect someone who suffers from it.

• What is the natural prognosis of the condition without treatment? If you were to allow the disease to advance, what would happen? Some diseases are less painful than others, some may allow life to continue normally for some time. Curative treatment might be more arduous than the natural progression of the disease.

• What are the treatment options for the disease? What are the chances for success? Some treatments are more painful than others; some may be worse than the actual disease. Chemotherapy is often one such treatment. It requires tremendous amounts of energy to endure and recover from, and depending on the potential outcome may be worse than simply letting the disease run its course. On the other hand, chemotherapy is quite effective in fighting cancer, so the benefits and risks must be weighed.

• What are the potential complications of the treatment under consideration? Some treatments are more likely than others to put families in ethical dilemmas. Alzheimer’s patients may need a feeding tube because they sometimes refuse to eat. It helps to discuss beforehand under what conditions a patient or family would want a feeding tube inserted and removed. Feeding an otherwise healthy person who simply will not or cannot eat is different than artificially feeding a dying person. A feeding tube can painfully prolong dying as the body requires energy to digest the food at a time when it needs to focus on shutting down organs. Answering such questions based on a diagnosis in advance, or even just thinking about them, eases the decision making process when the time comes.

Whatever treatment choices are made, Christians can value life by working with doctors to prolong it or make it more comfortable—and possibly richer —though shorter. One patient with terminal cancer told me that he intentionally stays engaged with coworkers, academic publishing schedules and family life in order to avoid the inward focus he had observed in many people before they died. Or Christians may value life by recognizing God’s call to heaven. John Dunlop says he observes a slow detachment from life in his elderly patients. Eventually, it’s time to go. Either way, by thoughtfully engaging how a patient’s values will influence her medical decisions, families can offer better support. Even when a family member disagrees with a patient’s choices, understanding why someone chooses a hospital setting rather than home, or vice versa, helps family members to be supportive and to be able to grieve when that person dies.

A patient’s readiness to die translates into what care he or she wants. Because these values are very personal and can change as a patient feels that death approaches, families must be in conversation. Often family members have to implement a dying person’s wishes. “Living wills,” like the Five Wishes, simply give legal enforcement (and therefore a guarantee to the hospital that it will not be sued) to a patient’s desires. However, they can always be changed or rejected entirely (simply by throwing it out).

But the point is not to pin down what doctors should or should not do in any unforeseeable circumstance. It is to provide an opportunity for families to discuss a patient’s medical desires. Because our views may change, because we cannot know what medical options may be relevant, or what their ethical or relational implications may be, our conversations should simply reflect our values: this is what I want my last days to look like.

If the Lord tarries His coming and we live, we will continue this topic in our next podcast.

Let’s Pray —

Dear friend, please understand that after you die, you will be ushered into one of two places to spend eternity, Heaven or Hell. Here’s how you can be sure that you will not go to hell and suffer eternal damnation forever and rather have a home in Heaven when you die. The Bible says, ”Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Here’s how you can be saved from sin and hell and have a home in Heaven when you die in more detail.

1. Accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 7:20: “For there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not.” Romans 3:23 reads: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” In fact, I am the chief of sinners, so don’t think that you’re alone.

2. Accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”

3. Accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The Bible says in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

4. Accept the fact that you cannot do anything to save yourself! The Bible states in Ephesians 2: 8, 9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

5. Accept the fact that God loves you more than you love yourself, and that He wants to save you from hell. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

6. With these facts in mind, please repent of your sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and pray and ask Him to come into your heart and save you this very moment. The Bible states in the book of Romans 10:9, 13: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Dear friend, if you are willing to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, please pray with me this simple prayer: Heavenly Father, I realize that I am a sinner and that I have done some bad things in my life. For Jesus Christ sake, please forgive me of my sins. I now believe with all of my heart that Jesus Christ died for me, was buried, and rose again. Lord Jesus, please come into my heart and save my soul and change my life today. Amen.

If you believed in your heart that Jesus Christ died on the cross, was buried, and rose again, allow me to say, congratulations on doing the most important thing in life and that is accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour! For more information to help you grow in your newfound faith in Christ, go to Gospel Light and read “What To Do After You Enter Through the Door”. Jesus Christ said in John 10:9, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

Daniel Whyte III has spoken in meetings across the United States and in over twenty-five foreign countries. He is the author of over forty books including the Essence Magazine, Dallas Morning News, and national bestseller, Letters to Young Black Men. He is also the president of Gospel Light Society International, a worldwide evangelistic ministry that reaches thousands with the Gospel each week, as well as president of Torch Ministries International, a Christian literature ministry.

He is heard by thousands each week on his radio broadcasts/podcasts, which include: The Prayer Motivator Devotional, The Prayer Motivator Minute, as well as Gospel Light Minute X, the Gospel Light Minute, the Sunday Evening Evangelistic Message, the Prophet Daniel’s Report, the Second Coming Watch Update and the Soul-Winning Motivator, among others.

He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Bethany Divinity College, a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Texas Wesleyan University, a Master’s degree in Religion, a Master of Divinity degree, and a Master of Theology degree from Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity (formerly Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary). He is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Ministry degree.

He has been married to the former Meriqua Althea Dixon, of Christiana, Jamaica since 1987. God has blessed their union with seven children.