In his capacity as associate minister at the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, the Rev. Bill Crowell has plenty of experience dealing with parishioners who have struggled to make the right decisions when an elderly family member approaches death.
In most of those cases, he believes, the experience would have been made much easier if those families had discussed the patient's wishes in advance.
"To deal with the tough questions of letting go of loved ones, no one wants to deal with it," Crowell said. "And yet, it is so helpful. As a pastor, I know if you don't have those conversations with someone, when the time comes, it makes it tougher."
Crowell, who also serves as chairman of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice's annual Interfaith Trialogue Series, said that issue and others will be explored when the series returns this month to a series of locations throughout the city. This year's topic is "Medical Dilemmas of Living and Dying in America."
Also serving as the moderator for the various sessions, Crowell hastened to add that the Trialogue series casts its various topics against a background of faith.
"What's unique about our series is, we start asking religious questions about it," he said.
Crowell said the topics of medicine and religion intersect in a number of areas, including restrictions on some procedures at Catholic hospitals, the prohibition against blood transfusions and/or organ donations by other faiths, and concerns about the transplant of pig heart valves in patients who adhere to a faith that forbids the consumption of pork.
This year's topic is especially timely, he said, given the national debate over the adoption of the health care reform bill and the recent effort by Republicans in Congress to repeal it.
Jeff Matthews, the program coordinator for the OCCJ, said that when Trialogue organizers began discussing possible topics for this year's series last spring, the congressional debate over the bill's passage certainly was a topic of discussion.
"We didn't go down that particular path as far as politicizing it, but it's definitely a part of it," he said.
Matthews said he was certain a debate over the merits of the law would come up at some point during this year's series. Each session features a question-and-answer period, he said, and controversy is no stranger to those segments.
"You put 150 or 200 people in a small room, and somebody's going to ask a jolting question that has merit," he said.
Perhaps no idea will be more jolting to some audience members than the idea of confronting their own mortality, the two men agreed. Matthews acknowledged there is a general unwillingness among Americans to discuss that subject, but he believes this year's Trialogue series can help people get past that hurdle.
"From this particular topic, I find it extraordinary," he said. "A lot of people don't accept that or steer away from it, but I'm firmly grounded in the idea I'm going to die someday. I'm very conscious of the idea I'm going to move on to the next realm. And I view this as an opportunity to learn more about it. I'm also getting the opportunity to learn what other traditions believe -- not only in death, but here on earth."
Crowell said this year's topic is of particular interest to him, as both his parents are elderly. Both are in good health, he said, but at some point, their end-of-life care will become an issue.
He is especially anticipating the discussion on advance directives.
"Certainly, our hope is people will be not only informed, but if they don't have a medical directive, they can hear about them," he said. "Hopefully, they'll begin to put their affairs in order before they get to the point where their family has to make decisions for them. If people could begin to act on issues in a way they haven't before, we will have accomplished something."
All Trialogue sessions begin at 2pm. The series kicks off on
Sunday, Feb. 6 at the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church with a session entitled "Living vs. Dying: The Costs." The session will begin from the perspective that most health-care spending occurs in the last six months of a patient's life, examining how the technology that sustains us also presents enormous ethical challenges. The session features Jeff Alderman and Kevin Donovan of the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine.
The second session will be held on Sunday, Feb. 13 at the Peace Academy, 4620 S. Irvington, and is entitled "Who Cares & How." Barbara Bilderback of St. Francis Hospice, Ron Nofziger of Hillcrest Medical Center, Rabbi Anna Berroll of Temple Israel, Dr. Mindy McGarrah Sharp of Phillips Theological Seminary and Dr. Ziad Sous of the Islamic Society of Tulsa will address issues surrounding those who choose against treatment and God's role in that decision.
The third and final session takes place on Feb. 20 at Congregation B'nai Emunah at 1719 S. Owasso Ave., and is entitled "Meaning in the Shadows." The Rev. Irv Cutter of St. John's Episcopal Church, Nuredin Giayash of the Peace Academy, Father Jack Gleason of the Church of the Madalene and a speaker representing the faith of Islam will examine how every tradition defines the meaning of life but must also reckon with the meaning of death.
For more information about the series, call 918-583-1361 or visit occjok.org.
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