Countering Hospice Myths: A Response to John Neihof and the American Family Association

A recent article by Dr. John Neihof on the American Family Association website caught my attention recently. I find that I’m often at odds with the AFA, and try to counter some of their more off-base proclamations (the biblical mandate for border walls for example) in their comments section. It’s been a fool’s errand I think, and this fool has run his final errand with the AFA.

The American Family Association has propagated many things that I disagree with, and in some of those cases I can agree to disagree. However when a writer propogates a myth about hospice care that demonizes and misrepresents those who seek “death with dignity” I must speak in a way that simply won’t fit in a comment section.*

The article by Neihof started out with a reasonable enough premise, that Christians need to lean toward life and away from negativity and rumor-mongering that is so prevalent in society today. Neihof then said the following:

Our culture of death is voracious in its appetite to consume. “Old people cost too much to keep around,” the sword-wielding specter of culture proclaims. 

“Let them die with dignity!” 

Interpretation: “Kill them.” 

“They eat too much. They cost too much in medical care. They fill up too much space and suck in too much air. They are disposable.” 

So the culture of death marches on to advance its agenda. 

Innocence lost.

First, this representation is a frank and glaring myth. The first myth is that anyone in the medical community whether a secularist or not believes anyone should be killed because “they eat too much…(and) suck in too much air.” That frankly is laughable and a gross exaggeration at best. I doubt that even Peter Singer would agree to that sentiment. Frankly I have encountered more people that have prolonged someones life in order to continue to receive their social security check than have wanted to euthanize someone because they take up too much space or cost too much. Actually I have encountered none of the latter and more than I want to say of the former.

The second and more problematic issue I have is that this myth is a dangerous one. Allowing someone to die when interventions are no longer helpful or beneficial is not euthanasia. Chooseing to forego life sustaining treatment is not euthanasia. However the author equates any notion of “dying with dignity” – including rediculous ones – with careless and thoughtless euthanasia. I find this view dangerous because many Christians are faced with the issue of whether or not to provide or prolong life-sustaining treatments on a daily basis. These choices are difficult enough to make, but when people of like faith perpetuate the notion that by not doing absolutely everything to prolong life in every circumstance is to participate in a “culture of death” – with zero knowledge of each situation, or even of aging or the dying process in general – it interferes with proper decision making and causes unnecessary grief, pain and suffering.

I have seen firsthand how “doing everything” led to such pain. Several years ago I had a patient who had suffered a stroke years prior. She was nonverbal and fed artificially through a feeding tube and had artificial hydration. At first those artificial means helped to prolong her life, such as it was, and maintained at least some comfort associated with lack of hunger. However as she declined her bodily functions slowed and it no longer took in the nutrition provided by the tube feeding. It started backing up in her system, causing distention and discomfort. We convinced the family to slow it but they insisted on maintaining it. One day though we found that she had so filled up with unprocessed tube feedings that when she was laid down to be cared for she aspirated on that tube feeding and soon died.

To perpetuate the myth that “doing everything” is always appropriate and to not do so is equivalent to euthanasia is dangerous: dangerous to patients who are dying where interventions do more harm than good, dangerous to those who clearly state that they do not want extraneous measures such as CPR or artificial nutrition, and dangerous to families who are trying to find support to make these decisions.

It is very unfortunate that so many believe hospice to be a main provider of euthanasia when that is absolutely not the case.

I’m done arguing with the AFA. I have to be. It’s frustrating and ineffective, and frankly I feel they have lost all credibility and connection with Evangelicalsim proper.

*PS: A comment relating my concerns on the AFA page was finally approved after several days. I did respond to Dr. Neihof on his own web page, where his post can also be found.

5 thoughts on “Countering Hospice Myths: A Response to John Neihof and the American Family Association

  1. I would bet not one of those writers or editors have had to face this issue in their personal lives. Utter nonsense! And then to NOT publish dissenting views is reprehensible and irresponsible. Shame on AFA.

      • So mine was finally approved. AFA is tough to figure out in terms of what gets through and what doesn’t. This comment went through, but another had which was in support of another frequent commenter – who is rarely critical – was not. I give up. It’s no longer beneficial to me or to the readers.

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