September 4, 2022

The Choice

How do we face these decisions? How can we make them?

Ray Hartwell

Crisis standards of care, in which hospitals and physicians must decide how to do the most good with limited life-saving equipment or medication, were actively being considered when this article was written. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, while still deeply serious, is not forcing these kinds of decisions at present.—Editors 

We’re going to need the ventilator your husband is on to use for someone else.” Imagine hearing that from the hospital personnel caring for a loved one, perhaps your spouse. During these past pandemic years hospitals were overflowing, and even with all the efforts to provide sufficient equipment, when outbreaks peak there is not enough to go around. 

How do we handle hearing those words about a loved one? After all, our family member is already using the ventilator. Surely, since they qualified to be put on it in the first place, they get to continue using it as long as there is life—as long as there is hope. And yet, there is a message, unspoken, but underlying the words “We need this ventilator for someone else.” We don’t think there is enough hope for your loved one, compared to another patient, who might have a better chance of recovery if they use this ventilator

All the conversations and debates over ethics, moral choices, and medical dilemmas come crashing against the massive concrete wall of reality as these words hit home. Suddenly these are not just hypothetical musings or shared opinions anymore. Now it’s real, right here, with this spouse, this family, this community of friends. 

Who Makes the Choice?

How do we face these decisions? How can we make them? Who gets to decide the withdrawal of a life-supporting mechanism so that another person gets a chance at life? And what wrenching struggles medical personnel must experience as they have to prioritize care and treatment with limited resources during this pandemic? And they look real patients and real families in the eye as they try to navigate these heartbreaking choices. 

Who can be saved? And who is beyond saving? 

Thankfully, when it comes to the pandemic of sin infecting the present and future of all humanity across the history of this earth, the remedy is not in such short supply that there is doubt as to who will qualify or be offered the lifesaving healing so desperately needed. 

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). 

There it is. God doesn’t have to triage among sinners and decide that some can be granted a remedy and others will have their lifesaving portion passed on to someone else. Each person is as valuable to our heavenly Father as if they were the only one He was concentrating on. 

Two encouraging thoughts from the classic book The Desire of Ages bring warmth to fill the soul. 

“Every soul is as fully known to Jesus as if he were the only one for whom the Saviour died. . . . He cares for each one as if there were not another on the face of the earth.”1 

And then there is this: 

“The Saviour would have passed through the agony of Calvary that one might be saved in His kingdom. He will never abandon one for whom He has died.”2 

How reassuring to know that in the intensive-care unit of life, we will not be abandoned. The life-giving remedy is not in such limited supply that a decision will have to be made to withhold treatment from some and give only to a limited few. All are seen as of immense value in the spiritual care unit where the Master Physician is in charge of salvation. 

When we come to Christ, battle-scarred from life, weak, helpless, infected by our sins, we don’t have to worry that Christ will take us in, but then decides our case is hopeless and He will have to let go of us. Jesus Himself said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). 

No Quotas to Grace

His grace is continuously extended to us. His compassion stays with us. He doesn’t shift it over to someone else. We don’t have to be afraid that His grace will run out, that there won’t be enough. God’s Word reassures us that each of us is provided for, because He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). There are no quotas. No times when God will say, My hospital for sinners is full right now. Although you need mercy, grace, and salvation, I’ve got My hands full right now with these folk. I’ll get to you when I can. 

Recently I was talking with a nurse who serves at our local Seventh-day Adventist hospital near where I live. It’s a 69-bed hospital, and during the previous week the hospital had 120 patients under its roof. Every room was taken. Every bed in the Emergency Department (ER) had a sick person who needed to be transferred from ER upstairs, but there were no beds available, so the ER was now being utilized for inpatient care. Hospital beds were placed in waiting rooms, turned into wards, with temporary privacy dividers. A 5-year-old desperately needed care, yet not only was this hospital full, there were no pediatric beds at any of the major hospitals within 250 miles. An air ambulance helicopter flew from Dallas-Fort Worth to pick up the child and fly him to Texas, the closest hospital with room in a pediatric unit. The nurse described how she and others were ministering nearly around the clock, even serving in units that were not their customary medical specialty. One day she had worked her regular shift from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. and then needed to continue right on through to 1:00 p.m. There is a physical limit even to what our dedicated caregivers can do during this recent wave of COVID-19 before they just collapse from exhaustion. 

But there is no limit to God’s grace for you. Speaking of Christ’s mission, God’s Word reminds us, “Therefore He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Don’t ever get discouraged. Remind yourself of those words: “He always lives” and “He is able to save to the uttermost.” 

You Were Chosen

Jesus chose you. He chose to go to the limit of His life, pouring out every ounce of His energy, love, and even blood, so that He could save you. And so that there would be no limit to the grace that He can offer you, until He gets you restored and safely to our heavenly home. 

1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 480. 

2 Ibid., p. 483.