Alzheimer’s Disease and God

Alzheimer's Disease and God
The theme of the December 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation is “Understanding and Helping Those with Alzheimer’s.” The American Scientific Affiliation is an organization made up of scientists holding advanced science degrees who are believers in Jesus. This issue brings up questions regarding Alzheimer’s disease and God.

The World Health Organization reports that there are 47.5 million people with dementia worldwide. Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 to 70% of those. The WHO also tells us that 7.7 million new cases are added each year. The National Institute of Aging ranks Alzheimer’s as the third leading cause of death for older people–behind heart disease and cancer. There is still much that science does not understand about Alzheimer’s. Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga writes that “dementia including Alzheimer’s may simply be the result of our brains living beyond what they were designed for.”

The question concerning Alzheimer’s disease and God becomes whether God’s design is flawed or whether Alzheimer’s is something humans have brought on themselves. First, we need to understand that there are two forms of Alzheimer’s. One occurs early in life and is called familial Alzheimer’s. It is a rare disease accounting for less than 5% of all Alzheimer’s cases. The more common late-onset Alzheimer’s is associated with a gene called apolipoprotein E which is involved in metabolizing fats in the body. Studies have linked diet and environmental contaminants to Alzheimer’s. It now appears that Alzheimer’s is not a single disorder, but that there are many forms with many different causes. Obviously, that makes identifying the specific cause and treating patients very difficult.

The bigger question is how we handle people with Alzheimer’s. One solution is euthanasia at early stages of the disease. Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who developed a lethal injection system as a means for assisted suicide, promoted this view. The first patient he euthanized by his system was a 54-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. Peter Singer, who is the head of the ethics department at Princeton University, has promoted this view on an academic level.

Because the American Scientific Affiliation is a Christian organization, the euthanasia alternative is dismissed by the magazine. Instead, it suggests ways that faith can help patients and caregivers deal with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

If your view of life is that it is all about “survival of the fittest,” then Alzheimer’s is simply a demonstration that the patient is not fit. That would suggest a treatment that concerns itself more with those who are fit and doesn’t address the quality of life objective that Christ would teach for the patient. For more about ASA go to their website. To see the issue on Alzheimer’s Disease and God click here.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Physician-Assisted Suicide and the Christian

Contemplating Physician-Assisted Suicide
One of the new problems people face today is the question of what to do when you have a painful terminal illness. Improved medical treatments have allowed us to live longer with diseases that previously would have ended life. This has led to increased interest in physician-assisted suicide.

As I write this, I am dealing with my younger brother facing the end of life due to a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. The disease has changed him from an active, in control, retired military officer to a man confined to a wheelchair, in great pain, and unable to care for himself. He and I have talked about physician-assisted suicide a number of times. Each time we do, the discussion gets more difficult.

Christianity Today (April 2017, page 18) reported that Lifeway Research found that 38% of the American public believes that physician-assisted suicide is morally acceptable when facing a painful terminal illness. Their study shows that 42% agree that physicians should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives. Those numbers have been climbing, and they will continue to do so.

It is easy to give simplistic condemnations of those who choose to end their lives in this way. When we are in the situation, it becomes much more challenging. For the Christian, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Do we have any right to end the body’s life? Is a body racked with pain and twisted with a horrible disease a fit place for God’s Spirit? What effect does ending one’s life have on the loved ones? Is there ever a time when a person cannot minister to others even as they battle a horrible disease? These are all hard questions to answer.

It is obvious that our society is moving toward the time when euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide will be widely available. That is already the case in the Netherlands, and several states have passed laws allowing it. While the atheist may feel that human life should be treated like all other kinds of life, the Christian has a higher view of human life. This makes the decision more difficult when the end of life comes, but it also mitigates many of the fears and concerns that death brings. Life isn’t easy, and the end of life can be the most difficult. We need to study and pray together and support one another in these end-of-life issues.
–John N. Clayton © 2017