Voices
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Freedom from fear

Elderly Christians could have a unique voice in the healthcare debate

Issue: "Crackdown," July 18, 2009

Even at the age of 88 my friend Bess Gilmore is sprightly, direct, and efficient. So when she called the other night, I wasn't surprised that she got right to the point.

"Joel," she said, "the doctor tells me that I've got cancer. And I'm not upset about it. In fact, I'm thinking maybe this is the vehicle God is designing to take me to heaven."

I'd spent a good part of that day reading up on some of the competing ideas that Congress, the Obama administration, and others are suggesting for the revamping of our nation's healthcare system. But in all that I'd read, nothing approached the boldness or simplicity of what Bess Gilmore was suggesting. Maybe, I thought, there's something profoundly important here that we've been leaving out of the national healthcare discussion.

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Worldview matters. If you live your life preoccupied with getting sick, fearful of getting old, and terrified of dying, those concerns will radically affect your thought life, your schedule, your budget, your diet, and yes, even your voting inclinations for all of your later years.

If, on the other hand, you understand that sickness, aging, and dying are part of the order God has designed for humans ever since the fall, then a somewhat more casual response is altogether fitting. It might even be appropriate to respond to the Lord's call by asking, "What time are you picking me up?"

I don't mean to be flippant about altogether serious matters. I do mean to suggest that an extraordinary opportunity may exist for God's people to offer a powerful witness right at the core of this huge national discussion. What if tens of thousands-or even hundreds of thousands-of aging American Christians found a thoughtful way to say together in reasonable unison: "We're not scared of old age. We're not terrified by illness. We know we're going to die. Our goal is not to resist the inevitable. Our goal is to show others that God is good even in the middle of what some people regard as weakness and adversity."

The practical ramifications are huge. Half of the current annual bill for America's health care is for people 72 and over. As the population continues to age, that figure will go higher and higher. And someone, sooner or later, will have to step in and make some choices about who gets what treatment. It might be a doctor, an insurance claims adjuster, or a Medicare bureaucrat. What's less and less likely is that the choice-maker will be you.

Time for personal disclosure: Since being diagnosed 18 months ago with a case of "aggressive" prostate cancer, I've consumed something like $55,000 worth of medical services. For that, I've received marvelous care, a vast reduction in the cancer, and a good prognosis. Because my own father died of prostate cancer, I know enough to take it seriously. But I also know I couldn't have written a check for $55,000. Without the blessing of good insurance, would I have chosen to go into debt to pay for that service? But now I have to face up to the fact that-partly as a result of my costly experience-the price of my own and my co-workers' insurance has just gone up 21 percent.

So I ask myself: Does the time come, not for the "system" out there but for me personally, when I need to be prepared to say, "This ought to stay in God's hands-not mine"? And if that is the case, how will I recognize when such a time has come?

Age matters. What's "tragic" for a young father of 35 isn't tragic for a 68-year-old geezer like me.

The disease matters. Some issues are life threatening. Some are excruciatingly painful but still not life threatening. Some are terribly but still merely uncomfortable. Which ones justify bankrupting your family?

Cost matters. It's easy to say that you can't put a value on a human life. But a $55,000 choice isn't the same as a $550,000 choice. What if the bill were $5 million?

And we're all different. Some of us, like Bess Gilmore, are longing for heaven. Others have a few things they'd like to take care of first. All of us desperately need godly wisdom. Might somebody fund a task force of a dozen wise Christian thinkers to distill the Bible's wisdom on so critical a topic? And might part of the result be that a national movement be formed, raising a distinctive resurrection-based voice on an issue from which not a single one of us is exempt?


If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to jbelz@worldmag.com.

To hear commentaries by Joel Belz, click here.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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