Spend any amount of time talking with a True Believer™ about their religious outlook and eventually they’ll get around to raving about how awesome Heaven will be. Each one will have a slightly different viewpoint on what exactly Heaven will be like, but they all agree it’s the best thing you could ever hope to experience and they simply can’t wait to get there. You’d think, given all the excitement they express over it, that this would mean they’d be less likely to seek out aggressive medical care at the end of their lives. Surely with such a great thing waiting for them on the other side they’d be more than happy to die sooner rather than later, but as it turns out that’s often not the case at all.
The Boston Globe reports on a study done at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, and five other sites in which Boston researchers found that the more religious the terminal patients were the more likely they’d be to demand everything be done to keep them alive as long as possible:
The patients who leaned the most heavily on their faith were nearly three times more likely to choose and receive more aggressive care near death, such as ventilators or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. They were less likely to have advanced care planning in place, such as do-not-resuscitate orders, living wills, and healthcare proxies.
“These results suggest that relying upon religion to cope with terminal cancer may contribute to receiving aggressive medical care near death,” the authors write in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association. “Because aggressive end-of-life cancer care has been associated with poor quality of death . . . intensive end-of-life care might represent a negative outcome for religious copers.”
Cancer is a particularly painful way to die. It’s been the cause of death for a good number of my relatives so I’ve seen what it’s like. There’s a good chance it’ll be how I end up passing away if I don’t get hit by a bus. In short, it’s hard to imagine how anyone who is dieing from cancer, and who expects something as wonderful as Heaven is supposed to be to be waiting for them once they kick the bucket, could possibly want to draw out the experience.
The best I can come up with is that they’re worried they haven’t earned access to Heaven yet. Either through some action or inaction that they always meant to get around to or perhaps there’s some sin they’re not completely sure God will forgive them for or maybe it’s simple insecurity. It does seem odd, though, that the people most certain that Heaven does exist and that they’ve made the proper choice of which religion to believe in would be so reluctant to put that faith to the ultimate test. I claim no certainty that there isn’t God(s) or an afterlife, I don’t believe either proposition to be true, but I wouldn’t claim to be absolutely certain about it as some TB’s would about their beliefs that there are. I believe death brings only non-existence, which some people consider a fate worse than Hell. Yet I can assure you that if I were to develop terminal cancer I wouldn’t be wasting a lot of time and money trying to live as long as possible.
The Boston study confirms something I’ve long suspected about many True Believers™. That a good number of them have a very strong fear of death in spite of what they believe it’ll bring to them and in contradiction to what they claim. It’s certainly an interesting enigma.