Health Care and You



images-1Greetings!  I have returned after an extended and not-entirely intentional absence from the world of blogging. A significant factor has been the time required to prepare for a university level course, entitled “Comparative Religion,” that I began co-teaching as of September, 2015.

Readers of my blog could be forgiven for asking what qualifies me—a confirmed agnostic and an ex-Wall Street maven—to teach a course on religion. The answer is that a key element of the course is the recurring collision between modern health care and many religious traditions. My contribution is less on theology and more on bioethics—the many different ways in which religious beliefs affect health care, and particularly people’s end-of-life decisions.

As I noted in a blog last November, my interest in bioethics and health care was provoked by the prolonged and painful deaths suffered by both of my parents.  My father, bedridden with the complications of diabetes at age 54, repeatedly asked to be allowed to die. Sadly, four of the five time his heart failed, his doctor took extraordinary measures to get it pumping again. Even as a devout Catholic, he had the moral right to be allowed to die a year earlier, but he did not have the stamina to overcome his doctor’s refusal to let nature take its course.

By contrast, my mother romped through eight decades with élan. At age 70, while still of sound mind, she handed my brother and me detailed instructions from the Hemlock Society (now Compassion & Choices) for facilitating her death if she was no longer able to manage day-to-day life on her own.  Her advance directive, however, contemplated a stroke or terminal cancer rather than dementia. When Alzheimer’s unexpectedly stole away both her mental and physical capacities, there was little we could do.  No longer of sound mind, she did not meet the requirements for physician-assisted suicide in even the most liberal of states.

In my blog last fall, I initiated a discussion of several health care themes that seemed particularly relevant to the baby boom generation. Going forward, my focus will be broader, to include a host of issues that fall under the general heading of bioethics, and address health care issues faced by all age groups. Health care issues to be explored include the challenges posed by modern drugs and medical technology, as well as the challenges that many religious traditions face in this environment and the insights that they still have to offer.

Early health care topics will include:

  • How did we get to a place where aging has become a disease, something to be repaired and reversed … a place where we no longer seem to know what it means to let nature take its course?
  • Should health care be a universal right … and if so, what kind of health care?  If not, what criteria do we as a society use to decide what health care is necessary and appropriate?
  • Who should decide what kind of medical care we receive … whether to initiate or terminate treatment … based on what criteria?
  • What are your rights when medical treatment is deemed futile?  Can you … should you … override your doctor’s recommendation?  If so, under what circumstances.
  • What are the economic, financial and/or legal implications of the medical choices many of us will have to face … for ourselves and our families … for society as a whole?
  • Is there a “right to die” at a time and under conditions of our own choosing?  If so, does that imply a right to commit suicide … to have someone assist us with suicide?
  • What are the ethical implications of clinical research trials?
  • What are the pros and cons of “controversial” medical procedures: physician assisted suicide … clinical trials for new drugs and treatments … stem cell research … in vitro fertilization … organ transplants … designer babies?

As in the past, my goal is not to promote a particular point of view, but to prompt a vigorous discussion of the complex issues facing us all … not just the aging baby boomers, but the generations who come behind us, and must live with the consequences of the decisions we make—or perhaps even worse, the decisions we don’t make.

I hope you will join me — and bring your friends — on this journey.


  1. Welcome back, Mary! You have launched a focused and substantive campaign that has relevance to all of us. I am looking forward to the discussion of these pertinent matters. “Complex” is a great descriptor. I am currently in the throes of dealing with my 93-year-old mother’s cancer diagnosis. She does not want aggressive treatment and fortunately her medical care team is respectful and supportive of her wishes. Their goal is to stabilize her by the least aggressive means and not hasten her death by unnecessary aggressive therapies. She is responding well and is orchestrating her final wishes. I know it isn’t always so clear but it certainly has made a difference to her and my family to set realistic goals.

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Kathleen, thanks so much for those words of encouragement … I have learned so much … so much more and so much more in depth … as I prepared for this class. My brain almost aches, and I need to blog to release some of the pressure.

      I feel for you with your mother … it is precisely the kind of issue about any feeling person must be hugely ambivalent … I only hope it provide the comfort that you, your mother, and your family need

  2. Jane Jorgensen says

    Looking forward to your words!

  3. Can’t wait, Mary. I’ve missed you!

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Joan … am glad to be back … glad to know you’ll add your voice … I still love following your blog … completely understand your desire to take time off around the holidays. See you in early December.

  4. Excellent start to a truly important and timely topic, Mary. I trust you’ve read Arul Garande’s wonderful Being Mortal? One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I would normally have much to say but am just now leaving to sing with my hospice choir for a wonderful man who is modeling for me certainly how to die with dignity and grace. And fortunately, I’ve been able to tell him so.
    Welcome back, truly.

  5. Certainly an important topic. I look forward to reading more.

  6. Mary Gottschalk says

    Merril … I was delighted to see your comment … I have this vague feeling I was supposed to get back to you on some topic, but it was many moons ago, and my life as a memoirist/novelist seems a distant past. But this gives us a reason to reconnect … I do hope you stay tuned.