Healing at the end of life

Aug 2006    

IN HIS letter to the Corinthians, Paul paints a picture of spiritual healing at the end of life.

This is an important concept because end of life care is becoming an increasingly important concern in our society as modern medical interventions paradoxically prolong the process of dying as doctors fight the battle against death. This is in a part a symptom of the denial of death in modern society.

We need to face the reality of death for the truth is that if we want to really live we must be ready to die. The meaning of life and the key to our growth lies in coming to terms with our mortality.

The Advance Medical Directive

The cost of dying is also increasing and the Advance Medical Directive (AMD) was introduced some years ago in an attempt to help reduce futile, unnecessary and costly medical interventions in the dying.

Unfortunately, there are many limitations to the AMD which the public may not be aware of. The current AMD only applies when the by three doctors that he or she is dying. This raises the question as to why we need a directive for doctors not to institute futile medical interventions in the dying.

One important cause for much of the suffering at the end of life is the inability of many families, patients and doctors to come to terms with death and dying.

Another cause of much anguish is the lack of understanding of the expectations and hopes of the patients and their families in the midst of the emotional turmoil at the end of life. It is therefore important for patients, families and their medical care givers to have an open discussion with regard to the care at the end of life before the event.

Doctors also need to recognise that death is not an enemy but our teacher to teach us to number our days so that we may learn to live with wisdom. The public has to be well informed about the limitations of medical interventions. The medical profession also has a responsibility to define clearly what are futile and unnecessary medical treatment in a patient who is dying.


The greatest moral dilemma is that calls for more control at the end of life can easily lead to demands for the right to have euthanasia. It is crucial to recognise that euthanasia seeks to relieve suffering by hastening death. The danger of euthanasia is that it is the slippery road towards an inhumane society in which the handicapped, chronic sick and frail elderly may be seen as a burden to society and should be disposed of as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, modern medicine is too focused on the physical dimension of life and doctors are too preoccupied with physical cure and tend to ignore the emotional and spiritual needs of their patients. When healing is seen only from the perspective of curing a physical illness, it is not possible to recognise that there can be healing at the end of life. Hence, proponents of euthanasia are unable to recognise the possibility of healing at the end of life.

However, there are other dimensions of healing that we need to be aware of such as the healing of our emotions as well as our relationship with God.

Hospice Care

What is therefore urgently needed is a greater awareness of hospice care which will provide holistic, compassionate and loving care to the terminally ill.

It is therefore important to promote the principles of hospice care in our hospitals and nursing homes and to encourage Advance Care Planning rather than the Advance Medical Directive.

One misconception of hospice care is that it is only for those who are dying. While it is true that hospice care is a way of caring for the terminally ill, the focus is on helping them to live fully in the face of death. Hospice care does not seek to hasten or prolong the dying process.

A key principle of hospice care is the need to come to terms with death.

It is time to recognise that we can seek healing at the end of life. While we should always be open to the possibility of a miracle healing of the physical illness, it is also important to understand that healing may be experienced in the emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions of life. In fact we need to recognise that the most important miracle is to be alive.

Dr Patrick Kee, a member of Covenant Community Methodist Church, is a doctor with the Methodist Hospice Fellowship.


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