Monday, April 27, 2015

Simpson University: One More Friend on Hospice

Does anyone know where Dr. Dean filed the advance directives?
Just as with our electronic medical records at the hospital I serve, the email was automatically time and date stamped. We got the news at 10:22 p.m., Saturday, April 25, 2015.[1] It’s just a matter of time, now.

It troubles me more than most Hospice admissions. It’s not that my old friend’s treatments had failed. As much as she cried out for help to those from her church, the distance from Colorado Springs to Redding, California was apparently too great. She sought legal protections, but the courts said they feared to tread where angels stood helplessly by. Even those who once claimed to be her caregivers seemed only to see the estate she would leave behind. Specialists who may have had a renewing effect on her treatments? They never even visited the patient.[2]

At least the primary care provider, Dr. Betty Dean (board chair for Simpson University) understands the Hospice process.[3] Perhaps there will be some comfort-care provided as system after system, member after member, part after part continues to shut down. But I fear that as it is for so many physicians, the temptation to prolong the agony through artificial life-support will be too great. In this case, the toxic prescription will continue to be more loans, more buildings, more attempts to “grow ourselves” out of the deepening financial pit. As Dr. Dean told the family Saturday night, Dr. Dummer is tasked with increasingly “rapid advancement in our programs and growth in areas of high interest.”

My M.Div. graduating class from
A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary: 2012.
Where the personal pronouns and adjectives are so human (e.g., “we” have selected “your” president in order to advance “our programs”) an appeal to God’s will seems dissonant. That appeal becomes disastrously demented when it is presented as a panacea, a cure-all that overcomes all causes and symptoms, even the self-inflicted ones. Doing so while the heart and soul of this Christian community succumbs to the cancerous “business providing educational services” invites us to join in a delusion. We must decline.

Am I overestimating the disease process we’re seeing? I don’t think so. Certainly the Christian community recognizes the false hopes of futile treatments. The health-care proxy now appointed to oversee the patient’s final descent Dr. Robin Dummer. His doctoral dissertation covered the history of what is now Simpson University. He cites previous pronouncements of “God’s will” for Simpson that clearly echoed in Saturday’s announcement. Dr. Dean wrote, “We are pleased to follow that guidance [“God’s leading in the selection of your President”]…we move forward in the grace and power of our loving Saviour.” Dr. Dummer’s critique seems appropriate to both situations. He wrote, “the primary reason cited was God’s leading.” Then he added that “such an appeal to God as the decision-maker often mutes dissent[,] for how does one argue against God[?]”[4]

Tozer Seminary students at
Dr. Sarah Sumner's Installation Ceremony
Thankfully, Dr. Dean and her fellow board-members are not God, and we are still free to ask, “Could there still be some miraculous change in the patient’s condition?” It is a possibility. But the question is a little like asking, “Do some patients ‘flunk Hospice?’” And, to that question, the answer is Yes. With improved care and quality of life, with the withdrawal of debilitating treatments, and with the inaccuracies of medical prognoses, some patients rally and live far longer than one might imagine. Could that be the case with Simpson University, or even the Christian community within and around the university? Probably not. Here’s why.

The co-morbidities, the factors contributing to the decline and eventual death of this patient are severe, intractable, and being left untreated. One of those conditions is “philosophical dualism,” the idea that we can separate our “secular” lives from our “sacred” obligations. This infection eats away at the kind of dynamic Christian faith that would be necessary to the divine healing our friend so desperately needs. As that heart and soul erodes, even within the hollow shell of a “business providing educational services” the other disease continues to spread. “Reprehensible duplicity,” the practice of telling two (or more) complementary lies in hopes that neither will be effectively confronted, has pervasively endured treatments from both within and outside the organization.

A bunch of intensely Christian classmates during
"Intensives" during one of my master's coursework.
(I think it was the M.Min.P.C. at this point, maybe.)
So, this is the point at which most family members would ask, “How long does she have?” My personal experience as a Hospice chaplain leaves me opposed to prophesying in these cases. But I would offer a unique perspective on those matters that was shared with me some years ago.

I once served a patient whose multiple morbidities (and his doctors’ Latin phrases) had him confused about “How long do I have?” When he finally understood my translation of the most recent letter from the medical community he said, “So, the lung disease I’ve had would finish me off in about six years. But now I have cancer, and that’s going to finish me off in about six months. Just like, if I walk out onto the highway, I’d have probably no more than six minutes before the next logging truck came along.”

We laughed together then. And I wish I had his sense of humor now. But I find myself deadly serious about this.

To follow through on my friend’s metaphor, those of us who love the patient most should carefully consider whether we are being invited to sit vigil at the bedside, or to stand with the patient on the centerline of the highway. To use another frame of reference, I would never question those who have chosen, and those who may choose now to get off the ship while there (may) still be lifeboats available.

[1] This is the text of Dr. Betty Dean’s email from Saturday, April 25, 2015.
Dear Simpson Community,

The Board of Trustees of Simpson University wishes to thank all in the Simpson community who have prayed over the past weeks and months for God's leading in the selection of your President.

We are pleased to follow that guidance and announce the appointment of Dr. Robin Dummer to serve in leading the University as President.  Dr. Dummer's faithful service, understanding of the Simpson community, its culture and the institution's vision will allow for rapid advancement in our programs and growth in areas of high interest.

In addition to appointing Dr. Dummer, the Board acknowledges his most valuable service to the University during the past twenty-four months as Interim President.  With the strong support of the board, faculty, staff and administration, we have confidence that Dr. Dummer's leadership will serve the University well as we move forward in the grace and power of our loving Saviour.

With Gratitude to All,
Betty Dean, Chair
Board of Trustees

cc Board of Trustees
[2] Dr. Betty Dean, “Presidential Search Update,” faculty and staff emails, March 4 and 17, 2015.
[3] Dr. Betty Dean, personal conversations on her history of helping to found a local Hospice organization.
[4] Dr. Robin Dummer, Dissertation, quoted by Yvonne Comstock Wilber, Facebook comments, April 26, 2015.

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