One of the great and mostly unsung heroes of medicine was Cicely Saunders, the British nurse and social worker who effectively invented palliative care as we know it. A fierce opponent of euthanasia, she was convinced that easing suffering encompassed looking after the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of a patient.
She worked tirelessly against outdated methods of pain management, including the idea that existing pain medication should wear off before more is administered. For her efforts, she was made a Dame of the British Empire, and of the Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II.
Recently in the New Atlantis, physician Matthew Loftus argued that the modern approach to the end of life is “ending the suffering by eliminating the sufferer.” Cicely lived by a different creed: “[W]e will do all we can to help you not only to die peacefully, but also to live until you die.”
Increasingly, how Christians deal with dying will reveal what we really believe about life.
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