Should You Feed Grandpa? Depends on Your Worldview.


My friend, Marci, drives a basketball carpool every week, carting her teen-age son and his teammates to practices and games. So she hears a lot, from the boys, about their daily lives.

One conversation a few weeks ago sent chills up her spine.

“How’s your Grandpa doing?”  Marci asked Trey, an occasional rider.

Trey’s Grandpa had been in the hospital, a few states away, for two months after suffering a systemic infection that left him weak and unable to breathe on his own.  Trey’s aunts and uncles had been taking turns visiting, flying down to spend time with him and watch over his care.

“Well, not so good,” said Trey.

And then, in a matter-of-fact tone, he added, “But they stopped feeding him last week. The doctor said now he’ll die naturally, on his own, sometime this week.”

Marci’s jaw dropped.  She didn’t know what to say. Trey’s parents were nice people, not attached to any particular faith, but trying to raise good kids.  And yet here was Trey nonchalantly describing his extended family’s decision to starve his Grandpa as a “natural” death.

When the other boys left the car, Marci’s own son turned to her, aghast, and said, “What’s up with that? Stop feeding him so he’ll die?!”

What’s up with that?  It’s “worldview” in action.

What’s a “worldview”?

Our worldview is the lens through which we see the world—it’s anchored to the truths we believe and reflected in the shape of our decisions.

It’s the window through which we interpret our world, find meaning, and make decisions about right and wrong.

Decisions like whether or not we should continue feeding Grandpa.

Secular or Christian Worldview?

The sharp divide between these two worldviews begins at the beginning…with their premises.

While the Christian worldview centers on God (and acknowledges that God is in charge and we are not), the secular worldview exalts “me and my happiness.”

That’s an easy sell. Daily messages from the media, entertainment, counselors, doctors–even nominally religious folks–reinforce the secular worldview that it’s “all about me.”

And ideas that once seemed unthinkable blend into the cultural “white noise”— hardly noticed, rarely challenged, but imprinted in mind and memory.

Ideas like…

“We can’t really know what’s true. You have your truth, I have mine.”

“What’s wrong for me might be right for you.”

“What really matters is that you’re happy.”

“You’re entitled to get what you want. Now.”

“You’ve got to think about yourself first.”

“’Quality of life’ matters more than life itself.”

“Some lives aren’t worth living.”

Unless consciously overridden, these ideas trigger a secular worldview by default—even among those who wear the Christian label.

The result? Flawed moral reasoning.

The results can be deadly, as Grandpa discovered.

Christian morality begins with the question, “What does God say about this?”

The secular culture first asks, “How do you feel about that?”

Trying to decide whether Grandpa gets fed by asking, “How do I feel about that?” is like trying to drop a moral plumb line onto a deck that’s pitching and tossing on waves of emotion.

It won’t work.

As Christians, our moral reasoning begins with the truth revealed by God. And our moral plumb line drops straight from one level (“What does God say?”) to the next (“What does the Church teach?”), defining the scope of our solutions.

“Solutions” incompatible with God’s teachings get dumped out of the “solutions” bucket from the start, before we ever ask ourselves, “How do I feel about that?”

Ironically, Catholics who reject the moral teachings of the Church miss one of God’s great mercies—it’s precisely those teachings that offer clarity, direction, and peace about how God wants us to act.

So, starving Grandpa is not an option. Pope John Paul II put it this way: “Water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act.”

Everyone has a worldview—from the doctors who proposed a “Do Not Feed” solution, to the utilitarian ethicists on hospital staffs, to the clerk in the hospital gift store.

Trey’s family has a worldview.

And so do you.

The question is, which one?

Someone’s life may depend on getting it right.

© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson


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  1. I am catholic and a RN – the questions I would have to ask is:1. is the Grandparent at a point where he is no longer wanting to eat or drink? People at the end stage of life often have no interest in food/fluids. 2. If he is in the end stages extra fluid/artifical hydration often causes more discomfort and anxiety. Examples being increased shortness of breath, chest heaviness, and increase pain.

  2. Hi Andy,
    Thanks for writing. I am sure you are a compassionate RN! The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has provided specific guidelines to help us (and health care workers) know when nutrition and hydration are required care. The short answer is that they are “obligatory” even when they must be provided by artificial means (tube feeding), as long as the body can assimilate the nutrition and hydration and death is not “imminent” (hours or a day—not weeks!) Providing nutrition and hydration are considered “ordinary care” needed to prevent a person from starving or dehydrating to death. The link is here:

    I pray that our Catholic hospitals and health care workers will do what is right and be a witness to truly compassionate and life-affirming care–even at the end of natural life on earth. Thanks for writing…

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