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Prolonging Life

by Bruce L. Olsen

Medical science has made it possible to sustain physical life by artificial support systems under circumstances where functional and productive life may be no longer feasible. Prolonging life in these situations presents a moral and ethical dilemma for the medical profession and the family of the afflicted individual. On the one hand is the emotion of hope for recovery of useful function in a situation where the science of prognosis is imperfect and based to a certain extent on probability analysis, while on the other hand is the reality that physical death is imminent without life-support measures. Members of the medical profession deal with this dilemma by calculated evaluation of the data presented in the clinical situation and may present recommendations to the family and other concerned individuals as regards prognosis and what should be done. The family must analyze these recommendations in a situation clouded by the intense emotion of anticipated separation from a loved one.

Latter-day Saints are sustained during these trying times by their faith in Jesus Christ, whose teachings provide the strength, reason, and hope to guide one in making difficult decisions regarding life and death. "He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24).

Jesus Christ presented himself as the Savior of mankind through the Atonement and the resurrection: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And he that liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (John 11:25-26).

Belief in everlasting life after mortal death should allow faithful Latter-day Saints to make wise and rational decisions regarding artificially prolonging life when medical means to restore useful and functional existence have been exhausted. This is reflected in Church policy regarding prolonging life:

When severe illness strikes, Church members should exercise faith in the Lord and seek competent medical assistance. However, when dying becomes inevitable, death should be looked upon as a blessing and a purposeful part of an eternal existence. Members should not feel obligated to extend mortal life by means that are unreasonable. These judgments are best made by family members after receiving wise and competent medical advice and seeking divine guidance through fasting and prayer [Church Handbook of Instruction, 11-6].

(See Death and Dying; Daily Living home page; Attitudes Toward Health, Medicine, and Fitness home page)

Bibliography

General Handbook of Instructions. Salt Lake City, 1989.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Prolonging Life

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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