Question: "Is it wrong for a Christian family to use hospice?"
Answer: Hospice is a program that is designed to offer comfort and support to people in the final phases of a terminal illness. Hospice care focuses on pain management and quality of life, rather than a cure. Hospice care can be provided within a residential facility or in the patient’s own home. Most hospice organizations offer both trained nursing staff and spiritual advisors, providing a chaplain or end-of-life counselor. Hospice care can be of great benefit to families of terminal patients, whether Christian or not. There is nothing wrong with a family choosing to call in hospice. However, there are some aspects of this choice that should be prayerfully considered.
Every hospice is different, so families should shop around carefully to determine which hospice is right for them. Most insurance companies cover hospice care, but there may be cost limitations, so caregivers should also check with their insurance companies. Some hospices offer low-cost services to those without insurance, and most are also covered by Medicare.
Hospice care has many advantages. It allows patients to stay in the comfort of their own homes during their last months of life, while still receiving medical care. Hospice also offers ongoing support to the primary caregivers. With nurses and social workers coming in and out of the home, caregivers have more access to people who can answer the myriad of questions and concerns. End-of-life issues create the need for a variety of medications and equipment, such as oxygen or a hospital bed, and hospices are valuable resources for those needs. At the time of the patient’s death, a hospice doctor or nurse will guide the caregivers in taking the next steps.
There are a few considerations regarding choosing hospice care. Before making the decision, everyone involved should understand that, by choosing hospice, the patient is giving up on the possibility of being cured or of prolonging life. Hospice care is palliative only, not curative. If all family members are not in agreement that the illness is terminal, relationships can become strained or even hostile.
Some families may face objections from other Christians that, by choosing hospice care based on a doctor’s prognosis, they are not trusting God for healing. Many well-meaning Christians can make this difficult time worse for the patient and family by insisting that God wants to heal and that their choice of hospice care indicates a lack of faith. It is important that Christian friends of hospice patients never imply in any way that the Christian patient or his family is displeasing God or rejecting healing because they chose hospice. Most patients who love the Lord sought His healing long before they chose hospice and have surrendered themselves to His loving care. Hospice is their way of saying that they are placing themselves in the Lord’s hands to either heal or take them home. Hospice patients need encouragement and comfort, not criticism coming from spiritual arrogance.
Another consideration in selecting hospice care is that, if the family selects a program that is not well-run or employs incompetent or unpleasant people, the emotional strain can be worsened. Coping with the impending death of a loved one is difficult enough without having to also deal with hostile or unqualified medical personnel in one’s own home. The last few months of a terminal illness have everyone’s nerves on edge as caregivers feel the overwhelming responsibility to keep their loved one comfortable. Therefore, it is crucial that the hospice providers practice good bedside manners and extend patience and compassion to those caring for the dying patient. If a hospice is not meeting the needs of the patient or family, wise caregivers should choose another as soon as possible.
In deciding whether or not to choose hospice, it’s also good to consider that, under guidance from hospice, the majority of the patient’s end-of-life care will fall to a medically untrained family member. The idea of such responsibility can be daunting to the spouse or relative designated as the primary caregiver. Fear and anxiety often skyrocket, and those insecurities are then passed to the patient, causing friction and emotional trauma. Before choosing hospice, Christian families should seek the Lord and ask His strength in shouldering that burden. Ideally, the bulk of care should be shared among several caregivers so that no single person must bear the whole burden of care (Galatians 6:2).
Christian hospices exist, and they would be a wise choice for Christian families in need. Caregivers feel better knowing that the chaplain who is comforting their dying loved one is giving biblical counsel, not empty platitudes from another religion. Terminal patients have many questions about the afterlife, and a Christian counselor can offer reassurances from God’s Word or even lead that patient into a saving relationship with Jesus. First Thessalonians 4:13–18 is a comfort that all Christian families can cling to as one they love goes to be with the Lord. Unlike a hospital stay, hospice care can provide the freedom for Christian families to sing, pray, worship, and read Scripture in the familiar surroundings of home, creating a more peaceful environment as their loved one exits this world.