Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 13, 2009
A weekly visit to a nursing home can be an act of love
Our vulnerable elders need the voice of a concerned advocate
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
In 1979, the Protestant theologian, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, and paediatric surgeon, Dr. Everett Koop, made a film called Whatever Happened to the Human Race? It was a courageous production that dealt with abortion, infanticide and the eventual acceptance of euthanasia.
Here we are 30 years later and the film has proven prophetic. At one point during the film, it was stated, “There is little difference between active euthanasia and the way so many of the elderly are abandoned to a living death in the old folks’ homes.”
WAITING FOR GOD
I’m not sure about the moral comparison to euthanasia, but it is true that many nursing and old folks’ homes are like a living death.
This came into striking focus for my wife recently when she visited a nursing home where her mother was scheduled to go to live. I won’t identify the facility: instead I’ll give it the fictitious name of Shady Pines.
The place was dirty, dingy and depressing. Patients sat in dreary grey wheelchairs in dreary grey rooms, marking time. Human dignity had been replaced by utility and attrition.
It was a nursing home in name only. The word “nursing” conjures up images of loving care and “homes” are where people live. Shady Pines was neither.
HUMAN DUMPING GROUND
No, Shady Pines is a human dumping ground for poor, unwanted and unloved old people or the severely disabled. People do not live at Shady Pines they exist there. It is the last stop, a place where unwanted people are warehoused until they die.
Why do I think patients at Shady Pines must be poor, unwanted and unloved? I believe this because surely no one’s family would leave a loved one in that terrible place unless finances prohibited any other option.
If a life well lived is like a beautiful rhapsody then Shady Pines is atonal, discordant and jarring noise that insults the concept of being alive.
My wife began to militate for a better option. Happily, people who have the power to make such decisions relented and found a better facility. My wife illustrated the truth of the adage about squeaky wheels getting the grease.
Vulnerable people need advocates, otherwise they can get lost in bureaucratic decision-making that may not be in their best interests. It may not be intentional, but those who are unable to speak up for themselves can easily be overwhelmed by government regulations, policies, institutional procedures and general human ineptitude. It can work against them and in extreme cases even prove deadly.
The need for personal advocates will increase as the population ages. But what will happen to people who have nobody to advocate for them? Precisely. What about them? The voiceless always lose, but things can be different.
As Christians we are called to show our concern — through our words and actions — for “the least of these.” What we do for the needy, the lonely, the suffering, the disenfranchised . . . we do to Christ. He told us this.
Elsewhere, Jesus said, “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law of the prophets” (Matthew 7.12, also Luke 6.31).
As the Saviour said, this moral standard for human behaviour dates back to antiquity. Since the 18th century, this principle has been known as the Golden Rule.
Would you want people to visit you, or to advocate for your welfare if you lived in an institutionalized or inferior nursing home? If so, then that is how we must behave toward others who are in that situation.
Living by the Golden Rule does not always mean going up against a giant bureaucracy for the sake of somebody being hurt by it. It can be something as easy and simple as regularly visiting a person in a nursing home who may have been forgotten or who gets few visitors.
You do not have to know the patient. Introduce yourself, start a friendship. Perhaps it might only require an hour or two of your week, but it may mean the world to the nursing home patient. For all we know those few hours might be their only connection to the outside community — or anything that resembles human affection.
LOVE IS A VERB
Little things can mean so much to people and to God. When Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” it was a command to his followers, not a suggestion. He meant the word “love” as a verb.
Real love is not passive. Real love is engaged with the living Christ and reflects onto the lives of other people — especially those who need love most. Jesus said if we do this, then everyone will know we are his disciples. Love is the best evangelism.
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