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  • Health care and suffering

    We ask patients — what is your pain from 0 to 10? This gives the impression that the goal of health care is to get suffering to zero. But purpose of health care isn’t to eliminate all suffering. 

    The purpose of health care is to manage our pain, work through our pain, even befriend our pain and see what it can teach us. To be alive is to feel pain. It is in suffering that we are humanized. We become compassionate precisely in our suffering. As Christians, we can unite our suffering to Christ. We can experience redemptive suffering. We can offer up our suffering as gift to others. All this is lost if we view the purpose of health care to eliminate all suffering. The person who knows no suffering can barely be considered human. 

    The purpose of health care is to eliminate all unnecessary suffering. We should see the potential in our own suffering — to give a new light to the suffering of others. In fact, the saints say to embrace your cross is to get rid of much of your suffering. 

    One doctor told me that while the United States has 4 percent of the world’s population, we use 75 percent of opioids. Our mistaken view of suffering is contributing to the opioid crisis. Pain pills promise the end of suffering. But instead we see suffering increasing in the vain attempt to eliminate it. 

    This belief also contributes to the advancement of euthanasia. If suffering is an end to be obtain at all cost, doesn't it seem the merciful thing to do is kill someone who is sick and sees no value in their suffering? In the world of health care, we have to see suffering not as the enemy but, in many cases, as our friend in disguise.

    Fr. Starzynski is a chaplain at iNova Fairfax Hospital. 



    © Arlington Catholic Herald 2021