Medicine, Patients, and Patience

The Hauerwas Reader

In a most excellent essay on Christians facing illness, Hauerwas chastens modern medical practice and ethics: “Modern medicine was formed by a modern culture that forced upon medicine the impossible role of bandaging the wounds of societies that are built upon the premise that God does not matter” (p 352). Modern medicine, he continues, is made up of a whole bunch of people who have only one thing in common – a fear of death (p 353). A whole bunch of people trying to push death far away creates a whole bunch of other people who follow the false hope of death being “way off.” ‘We can fix it!’ modern medicine cries; alternatively, modern man cries ‘we can fix it,’ which attitude in turn infiltrates modern hospitals.

“Technological miracles have schooled us in the false hope that death might be avoided altogether…. Modern medicine exemplifies a secular social order shaped by mechanistic economic and political arrangements, arrangements that are in turn shaped by the metaphysical presumption that our existence has no purpose other than that which we arbitrarily create” (p 354).

Hauerwas tells us not to be formed by such thinking when suddenly we’re in the doctor’s office facing the bad news of terminal illness. To be “patient patients” we need to understand and practice patience before we become dependent upon an oxygen tank or 7 pills a day. “To be patient when we are sick requires first that we learn how to practice patience when we are not sick” (p 364). “The patient patient knows – and can teach others, including physicians – that the enemy is neither the illness nor the death it intimates, but rather the fatalism these tempt us to as we meet our ‘bad luck’ with impatience.”

If you need some bio-ethics type reading, this piece should be on your list!

For the full article, see pages 348-366 of Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader ed. John Berkman and Michael Cartwright (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

1 thought on “Medicine, Patients, and Patience”

  1. Wow . . . a very nice corrective to the standard approach that has listened to the words of Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night . . . rage, RAGE against the dying of the light!”

    While death is still the final *enemy*, the answer certainly isn’t to avoid showing up to the battle or to pretend like there *isn’t* really a battle to be fought. Death scares me . . . I’m like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, but I know that I will plunge through the ordeal and emerge on the other side only because I’ll be clinging to my savior, Jesus Christ who is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep . . .

    Ok, enough poetic language for the day! Nice post, Lems!


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