Q. Our daughter and her boyfriend are living together. They are both in their 20s and have been in a committed relationship for a few years. How should we counsel our daughter?
A. I can sense the sadness you may be feeling because your daughter and her boyfriend have rejected the Christian belief that calls a sexual relationship without the benefit of marriage a sin. Perhaps you’re worrying about your daughter’s relationship with God and whether that relationship is important to her and her partner. And that might be the best place to start in a heart-to-heart conversation with your daughter.
Ask her what she believes, but be prepared to accept that she might be struggling to love a God whom she may perceive to be rejecting her and her lifestyle choice. Explain to her that God by nature cannot love her less than completely, just like you love her no matter what. Help her to see that having a sexual relationship means she and her boyfriend are already one and therefore in a sense married, although not yet with her parents’, society’s, and the church’s blessing. Ask her whether she’d like to receive these blessings.
Today’s cultural values encourage couples to explore living together before deciding to marry. The belief is that it helps couples learn whether they are truly compatible for life before they exchange vows. These are not the values espoused by most Christian churches, however, which usually include rules of chastity before marriage. In addition, statistics show that couples who have lived together before marriage divorce more often than couples who marry without having lived together first. It’s possible that couples who are committed to exchanging vows before building a life together have a stronger foundation to build on than couples with a wait-and-see attitude.
In any case, it’s important for Christian couples to be clear about the reasons for their decision to either begin living together or to wait until they have exchanged vows of love and fidelity before God, their relatives, and their friends as witnesses. Questions they can ask themselves or which their parents can help them explore include, Am I ready for a committed relationship? Do I expect that we will spend the rest of our lives together, and does my partner share my expectation? Why am I choosing to live together rather than get married? Does my decision relate to my own values and beliefs or someone else’s? If I don’t care whether my parents, my church, and God bless my relationship, why is that? Am I angry at my parents, at the church, or at God, and am I rebelling for that reason? What might be the reason for my anger?
It’s always good for parents of adult children to explore any life-changing decisions with them in an open and respectful manner, without condemnation or judgment. Knowing it’s safe to express how they really feel and that they will be loved in spite of differing views and values frees these children to make the best decisions for themselves for which their upbringing combined with their own level of maturity has prepared them.
Judy Cook is a family therapist and clinical director of Salem Christian Counseling Services, Hamilton, Ontario.
Q. What is the difference between euthanasia and withdrawing treatment at the end of life?
A. Although euthanasia and withdrawing treatment for a terminally-ill patient each have the same result, the process and intent are different. These topics are very complex, and any answer I give here can not be in-depth.
Euthanasia (from the Greek “good death”) requires an action that takes the life of a human. It can be performed by a person with the aid of another (assisted suicide) or by oneself (suicide). It is frequently done by the ingestion or injection of narcotics, sedatives, or both and is intended to permanently relieve pain and suffering. Euthanasia is becoming more acceptable in our individualistic society where personal autonomy is paramount. The Christian Reformed Church, through Synod, has made no official statement on euthanasia, but on the related subject of abortion it condemns “the wanton or arbitrary destruction of any human being at any stage of its development from the point of conception to the point of death” (Acts of Synod 1972). I agree with this completely.
Withdrawing treatment consists of removing or reducing medical interventions that are keeping someone alive artificially. In an end-of-life situation it can be the right thing to do. Treatments can become increasingly heroic and such treatments may eventually be deemed futile by the medical team. Examples of such treatments are ventilators, kidney dialysis, and multiple drug infusions to sustain the output of the heart. Although extremely useful when there is a reasonable chance of recovery, these treatments can cause increased pain and suffering for both the patient and family if used inappropriately. Even Christians must accept that some of us become so ill there is no earthly chance of recovery, and a peaceful and dignified death should be the objective of further treatment.
Allow me to add that comfort measures at the end of life are different than euthanasia. Morphine and sedatives may possibly shorten life a little but are necessary to allow some comfort and peace at the end. We invariably accept God’s spiritual comfort—we should also accept God’s physical comfort when offered.
Dr. Herman Borkent practices medicine at Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta.