rotating header

Friday, March 29, 2024

Good Friday thoughts on Moral Injury

I was today years old when I learned that Abraham Lincoln's assassination took place on a Good Friday.  In the excellent annual Biola Lent devotions, I took this poem "The Martyr" by Herman Melville (of Moby Dick fame) to be about Jesus . . . but it turns out to be about Lincoln:

Good Friday was the day
    Of the prodigy and crime,
When they killed him in his pity,
    When they killed him in his prime
Of clemency and calm--
    When with yearning he was filled
    To redeem the evil-willed,
And, though conquerer, be kind;
    But they killed him in his kindness,
    In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.

 Lincoln was walking another path of the cross, of personal risk and suffering and loss to right the wrongs of centuries of a country fuelled by the enslavement of Africans. 

The path of Jesus was costly to him, and continues to be costly to those who listen to the "take up your cross and follow" injunction, to his "love your neighbour as yourself" teaching. As Pilate questions him, he confirms that his new truths do not take hold by political wins, by overpower others, by visible awards. 

Good Friday procession in front of our house, with singing and crosses

I think the juxtaposition of Good Friday and the Scriptures from Hebrews, Isaiah, the Gospel of John .. . with then opening news and email to find one from the doctors' association purporting to represent American physicians of faith, a jarring discordance.  The leaders of the doctor association sound a bit  self-congratulatory because they went to the Supreme Court to argue that medication approved decades ago by the FDA now should be disapproved. It's a medicine that can be used in early abortions, but also one that is also used to treat dangerous bleeding and ulcers and other things. The argument was that IF a woman took this medicine for an abortion and THEN had to seek medical care for a complication, a Christian doctor might be called upon to care for her,  arguing " that our members will experience harms, such as conscience violations, when they end up being forced into treating patients suffering from complications of chemical abortion". 

As a doctor, I find arguing against treating patients because their behaviour "violates my conscience" a very troubling line of reasoning. Will we now not treat gun shot victims, if they were in a gang that fights with guns? Not treat motor vehicle accident injuries if they were driving too fast? Not treat hypertension or diabetes, if they were in our opinion gluttonous? Not treat cancer, if the patient was a smoker? Not treat liver disease, if the patient was an alcoholic? Not treat a child with AIDS, if the father was promiscuous? The human condition, per the creeds of our medical organisation, is riddled with sin. We've all made bad choices, harmful decisions. When the injured, bleeding, gasping patient presents, we don't first assess the violence to our conscience. We don't weigh whether treating them will enable them to continue a lifestyle we deplore. We assess their need, and our care can be an opening of the door of love into a life that might need some.

I lost three children by miscarriage, and thankfully no one refused me treatment because they worried I could have intentionally killed my babies. I've cared for numerous others where the causality of the fetal demise is not clear, here in a country where abortion remains illegal but still happens as it has throughout history. Medicine is a strenuous calling. So is love. So is faith. I applaud the 21rst century attention to the impact of endless need and limited capacity to meet it on the care provider. The world is a broken territory, people do wrong things, and the the unseen spiritual realm includes evil intent. All these make for doctor stress, but I struggle to make the story about us, as if it justifies withholding care if we can give it.

Loving this shattered world is a dangerous choice, and for Jesus it led to crucifixion. He was killed in his kindness, because of our blindness. Lament, small steps towards repair, thankful attention to the persistence of good, commitment to community, all these shine a path through the post-resurrection reality of the "already" and the "not yet". Lord help us to be a people of sacrificial love more than a people of righteous indignation. Especially me. 

The boys of WHM-U with their home-made crosses as our Good Friday service starts

1 comment:

mercygraceword said...

Thank you so much for this.