Medical testing and making the right decisions

A Christian Science perspective.

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Recently, a federal advisory panel recommended reversing previously promoted guidelines on medical testing for breast cancer. Gail Collins, a columnist for The New York Times, quipped that the past 10 years might be dubbed “the Decade of Medical Backtracking.” Ms. Collins, herself a survivor of breast cancer (whose case had not been caught by screening, and whose type of cancer was determined to have been exacerbated by once popular hormone treatments), wrote wittily about the politics of healthcare.

Since then, there has been further discussion about the decision on mammograms, but her story still epitomizes the dilemma people face when it comes to making decisions on how to best take care of themselves (The New York Times, Nov. 19, 2009).

It would seem that wellness depends on having the right information, not being misled by data that appear at first to be definitive but later turn out not to be, and making the right decision.

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When we attempt to cope with the unpredictability of human life, and feel anxious, what can we do? In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed: “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Matt. 6:25).

Of course we have to take care of ourselves. But Jesus taught that trying to take on the creation and preservation of wellness is too tall an order for humankind. He pointed the way out of the condemnation that comes when we begin by reckoning that good is limited and capricious by showing that men and women are inseparable from divine Love, God.

While Shakespeare’s Hamlet stated that a merely material life is subject to “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” Jesus spoke and acted from a very different basis. His words and works made tangible the spiritual substance of life. He met all the troubles that crossed his path with a rock-solid reliance on the actuality, presence, and power of God, who is divine good. His teachings are not just nice thoughts to comfort us as we struggle and hope our way through the years. They involve practical wisdom that applies to every decision we face.

Last spring a Madison, Wis., paper ran a front-page story about a woman who “miraculously” recovered from a form of cancer that was in its final stage. After being told by doctors to put her affairs in order and expect to die, she stopped all treatment. She experienced a fundamental shift in how she saw herself when her primary care physician then wrote her a prescription, which said, “You have my permission not to accept your prognosis. You have my permission not to accept your diagnosis. Go celebrate the miracles in your life” (“Surrender, followed by a miracle,” Wisconsin State Journal, Apr. 5, 2009).

Although this woman doesn’t attribute her healing to a religious effort on her part, it would be legitimate to say that she experienced the influence of the healing Christ in her own way. Jesus once healed a woman who had suffered with “an issue of blood” for 12 years, after she grasped at the hem of his robe as he passed in a crowd. He told her, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole” (Matt. 9:22). Jesus embodied God’s own unconditional and universal Love, opening the way for the woman to glimpse a new and better understanding of herself.

The Wisconsin doctor’s words also presented his patient with an alternative to the tyranny of matter and life ruled by medical expectation. She said at that moment she realized that for all the years she’d struggled with the disease, she had “become completely and totally defined by my illness,” and for the first time she felt that she didn’t have to identify herself in that way. It was a revelation, and she was able to focus on life instead of death. After two years had passed, she was asked to be retested because she was receiving disability payments. To everyone’s surprise, the cancer was entirely gone. That was eight years ago.

Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, wrote: “Progress takes off human shackles. The finite must yield to the infinite. Advancing to a higher plane of action, thought rises from the material sense to the spiritual, from the scholastic to the inspirational, and from the mortal to the immortal.... Love, the divine Principle, is the Father and Mother of the universe, including man” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 256).

Gaining a more spiritual sense of identity is not the religious icing on a mortal life. Instead, it defines what life in relation to an all-loving Creator actually is. From this, it’s possible to learn that the ability to safeguard life doesn’t come from making all the right material choices. Rather, it is gained when we acknowledge that life is totally spiritual, and then begin to live accordingly.

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