Tuesday, March 20, 2012

PBS: Evaluating Health Care Systems

Hopefully, in the future, Orthodox Christians will focus their skills and resources to establish truly Orthodox health care organizations and institutions. 

PBS has aired two programs, both hosted by coorespondent T.R. Reid, relevant to improving the U.S. Health Care System. Perhaps we can learn principles from these successful models to aid the effective implementation of health care systems or the establishment of Orthodox medical institutions. The most recent is Health Care: The Good News: "Correspondent T.R. Reid profiles doctors and hospitals all over the U.S. that are finding ways to cut health care costs while still providing excellent care. The documentary looks at several low-cost, high-quality regions to find out how they do it."  (http://video.pbs.org/video/2198039605/)

Another program is the FRONTLINE documentary, Sick Around the World: "In Sick Around the World, FRONTLINE teams up with veteran Washington Post foreign correspondent T.R. Reid to find out how five other capitalist democracies -- the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland -- deliver health care, and what the United States might learn from their successes and their failures." (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sickaroundtheworld/view/#morelink)

Photo from the National Institute of Health.  Public Domain.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Cardiologist & the Spiritual Life

Dr. George K. Papazahos, Assistant Professor of Cardiology at the University of Athens, served as one of Elder Porphyrios' physicians.  The following testimony of Dr. Papazahos regarding Elder Porphyrios is included in the book, Elder Porphyrios: Testimonies and Experiences by Klitos Ioannidis (Athens: Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the Savior, 2007), translated from the Greek 5th edition.  The testimony previously appeared in Synaxis (January-March, 1992, pp. 93-97):

"Here I will mention a self-diagnosis of himself.  He verified changes in his electrocardiograph without a cardiograph machine.  One night, he called me up quite concerned, 'Come here, late as it is, to see the changes in the cardiograph.  I was in pain many times today, and the pain was anginal.' Indeed, I ascertained that there were ischaemic changes (to arteries V3-V6) and I asked him under what kind of stress he was today.  He began to cry and with frequent interruptions he began describing something in detail to me.  He was seeing scenes from the street fighting in Romania.  It is was the day when the people rose up against Ceaucescu.  With his gift he saw the shootings and the deaths in the squares just like they were being published in the newspapers the following day.  He continued to cry, and I begged him to ask God to take away this vision.  His heart was in a dangerous state because of the stress.  His blockage could get severe.
     I found myself in the same kind of stress while witnessing the sensitivity of the 'other' heart of a saint.  I avoided looking at the cardiograph and thought to myself, 'What meaning does this nitrite anti-angina medicine that I am about to give you have for you, Elder? You're not of this world.  Your heart is beating in Oropos and is living in Romania.  On the ECG the heart is shown with an ischaemic "condition" at the ST interval, but in reality can be found "resurrected" to the heavens.'  I left there quite late, trembling because I had seen a little of the light of a saint." (268)

Elder Porphyrios "never refused the medical help of the many doctors who were also his spiritual children.  In fact, one day I asked him, 'Why do many spiritual people, especially monks, refuse medical help, thinking that the Panagia will help them quickly?'  He answered.  'It's egotism. It's the work of the Evil One, thinking that God will make an exception amongst all the others and will miraculously intervene for you.  God performs miracles, but you should not expect one for yourself.  It's selfishness.  On the other hand, God Himself acts through the doctors. 'The Lord gave us physicians and medicine,' says the Holy Scripture.'" (267)

"The Elder, as a doctor, did not only 'see' my physical ailments, he concerned himself with my many spiritual imperfections, too.  He tried to help me find humbleness.  One afternoon he telephoned me at my office immediately after a couple of patients had expressed their extreme love for me for the care I gave them.  I recounted his words, 'George, It's the Elder.  Both of us are going to hell together.  We'll hear, "You fool, this very night your soul is being demanded from you."  You enjoyed the good things in life.  "And the things you have prepared whose will they be?"'  I interrupted him, 'What did we enjoy in this life, Elder?  The broken down car, the empty bank account or the non-existent sleep?'  He answered abruptly, 'What's that you're saying? Don't people tell you what a good doctor you are?  You love us.  You take care of us.  You don't skin us alive. And you welcome this praise, you swallow it down.  Eh, you've already lost your reward.  The same thing happens to me.  They tell me that I have "gifts", how I can touch them and perform miracles, that I'm holy. And I gulp it all down, weak fool that I am. Eh, that's why I told you that both of us are going to hell.'
     'If we're going to go together,' I replied, 'let's go to hell too!'  And he hung up the phone saying, 'I'm speaking to you seriously and you're always joking. Good repentance to the both of us.'
     One day I was downcast, thinking that most of my life has gone by pointlessly in the midst of useless daily details.  The Elder telephoned me and lifted my spirits with two or three of his expressions, 'Doctor, did you ever hear the phrase, "they will not taste death?"  We can, if we wish avoid death.  All we have to do is love Christ.  You, "with all your heart", Mr. Cardiologist.'  He laughed." (270-271)

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Conception to Birth - Visualized" (TED.com)

Here is a beautiful TED presentation entitled, Conception to Birth - Visualized," by Alexander Tsiaras.

The video is also accessible at TED.com.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Record of Protest Against the Infringement of Religious Liberty by the Department of Health and Human Services

"The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, which is comprised of the 65 canonical Orthodox bishops in the United States, Canada and Mexico, join their voices with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and all those who adamantly protest the recent decision by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and call upon all the Orthodox Christian faithful to contact their elected representatives today to voice their concern in the face of this threat to the sanctity of the Church’s conscience.

In this ruling by HHS, religious hospitals, educational institutions, and other organizations will be required to pay for the full cost of contraceptives (including some abortion-inducing drugs) and sterilizations for their employees, regardless of the religious convictions of the employers.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. This freedom is transgressed when a religious institution is required to pay for 'contraceptive services' including abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization services that directly violate their religious convictions. Providing such services should not be regarded as mandated medical care.  We, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, call upon HHS Secretary Sebelius and the Obama Administration to rescind this unjust ruling and to respect the religious freedom guaranteed all Americans by the First Amendment."

The original statement can be viewed on the website of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America.

The photo of the Assembly of Bishops is copyrighted (DIMITRIOS@PANAGOS.COM) and is used here according to Fair Use.  The image is from Orthodoxwiki.org.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

The 180 Movie: Abortion, Young Americans & Compartmentalism

To live the Orthodox Christian Way involves possessing the Orthodox mind, ethos, and worldview, which remains unchanged in all places and in all ages.  This Orthodox way of thinking and seeing permeates all aspects of our lives: personally, privately, within the family, in the workplaces, and publicly.  Unfortunately, our neighbors who live and work alongside of us in our secular Western culture often suffer from compartmentalism. That is, they knowingly or unknowingly separate their lives into philosophical compartments bearing labels such as political philosophy, private relationship philosophy, work relationship philosophy, religious philosophy, spiritual philosophy, work philosophy, historical philosophy, social justice philosophy, etc.  When one suffers from compartmentalism, the person may say one believes something with regard to religious teaching, but the stated belief isn't actually expressed in his or her relationships with the opposite sex or evident in conversation regarding politics. 

As Orthodox Christians, we are called to live the Way of Christ that we might be of one mind, one heart, one ethos, one worldview.  This is only possible by immersing ourselves in the life of the Church, the path of humility, repentance, love, and prayer.  The Orthodox Way is not the way of rational philosophy but of the noetic knowledge of the heart.  

The movie 180 demonstrates the lack of a holistic way of thinking and seeing among young Americans, specifically with regard to views on abortion.  Even when members of the younger generation know intellectually that the baby in the womb is alive, they have been indoctrinated to accept the idea that abortion should remain legal because of a woman's "right to choose" to "terminate the pregnancy," especially in certain circumstances.  So, a severe contradiction exists between what some say they believe with regard to the life of the child in the womb and what they believe according to a political philosophy rooted in secularism.  If abortion is seen primarily as a political issue (pro-life v. pro-choice) emphasizing the personal autonomy of the woman to make choices regarding her body, then attempts to stop legal abortion may be viewed as "politicizing health care" rather than attempts to end the legalized murder of innocent babies.  

Not only does the Orthodox Church reject compartmentalism, but also rejects the confusion between rational philosophy (models based on concepts) and theology (knowledge of God by experience of the heart, not concepts in the rational mind).  The pursuit of theology within the life of the Church, which is only pursued through prayer and repentence, not by academic study or scientific inquiry, brings one to a Way of living wherein all things, by the Spirit, are seen through a single lens and understood outside of philosophical contradictions between spirituality, religion, vocation, relationships, politics, etc.  

180 is a fascinating piece of work that demonstrates ignorance (lack of education) regarding history and the problems of compartmentalism in a secular pagan society.  

More information on the historic approach to abortion in the ancient Church is available under the prenatal care section of this blog.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Words for Physicians from the Evergetinos

St. Diadochos:

"There is nothing to prevent us from calling doctors when we fall ill.  Since the science of medicine was destined to be discovered at some time through human experimentation, natural remedies were already in existence for this purpose.  However, we should not place our hope of healing in doctors but in our true Savior and Physician, Jesus Christ" (115).

St. Barsanouphios:

"If you insist on thinking that this remedy is beneficial for the sick person and it turns out that he is harmed by it, God, Who regards the heart, will not condemn you; for He knows that, although you harmed this person, you wanted to help him.  But if someone who is experienced tells you what to do, and you disdain to listen to him and do what you think best, this is arrogance and self-will" (116).

St. Ephraim:

"My beloved, if you have expertise in the science of medicine and are able to cure people, be vigilant, lest in your desire to heal others you show yourself to be full of passions.  As the Apostle says: 'Let not your good be evil spoken of' (Romans 14:16)" (117).

The Evergetinos: A Complete Text.  Volume 3.  Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 2008.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Benefiting from Illness through Prayer

"We benefit greatly from our illnesses, as long as we endure them without complaint and glorify God, asking for His mercy.  When we become ill, the important thing is not that we don't take medicines or that we go and pray to Saint Nektarios.  We need also to know the other secret, namely, to struggle to acquire the grace of God.  This is the secret.  Grace will teach us all the other things, namely, how to abandon ourselves to Christ.  That is, we ignore the illness, we do not think about it, we think about Christ, simply, imperceptibly and selflessly and God works His miracle for the good or our soul.  Just as we say in the Divine Liturgy, 'we commend all our life to Christ our God'" (227-228).

"The whole secret is faith -- without doubts, gentle, simple and artless: in simplicity and artlessness of heart.  It is not a question of 'will power' or 'mind over matter'.  A fakir can display this kind of 'will power'.  It is a question of having faith that God loves us with infinite love and wants us to become His own.  That is why He allows illnesses, until we surrender ourselves in trust to Him" (228-229).  

*Footnote on p. 224: "Elder Porphyrios suffered from the following illnesses: myocardial infarction (anterior diaphragm with lateral ischaemia), chronic kidney disease, duodenal ulcer (with repeated perforations), operated cataract (loss of lens and blindness), herpes zoster (shingles) on the face, staphylococcus dermatitis on the hand, inguinal hernia (frequently strangulated), chronic brochitis and cancer of the pituitary gland."

Selections from Wounded by Love: The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, trans. by John Raffan (Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, 2005).  Image source: Orthodoxwiki.org