The theme of the December 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation is “Understanding and Helping Those with Alzheimer’s.” The American Scientific Affiliation is an organization made up of scientists holding advanced science degrees who are believers in Jesus. This issue brings up questions regarding Alzheimer’s disease and God.
The World Health Organization reports that there are 47.5 million people with dementia worldwide. Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 to 70% of those. The WHO also tells us that 7.7 million new cases are added each year. The National Institute of Aging ranks Alzheimer’s as the third leading cause of death for older people–behind heart disease and cancer. There is still much that science does not understand about Alzheimer’s. Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga writes that “dementia including Alzheimer’s may simply be the result of our brains living beyond what they were designed for.”
The question concerning Alzheimer’s disease and God becomes whether God’s design is flawed or whether Alzheimer’s is something humans have brought on themselves. First, we need to understand that there are two forms of Alzheimer’s. One occurs early in life and is called familial Alzheimer’s. It is a rare disease accounting for less than 5% of all Alzheimer’s cases. The more common late-onset Alzheimer’s is associated with a gene called apolipoprotein E which is involved in metabolizing fats in the body. Studies have linked diet and environmental contaminants to Alzheimer’s. It now appears that Alzheimer’s is not a single disorder, but that there are many forms with many different causes. Obviously, that makes identifying the specific cause and treating patients very difficult.
The bigger question is how we handle people with Alzheimer’s. One solution is euthanasia at early stages of the disease. Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who developed a lethal injection system as a means for assisted suicide, promoted this view. The first patient he euthanized by his system was a 54-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. Peter Singer, who is the head of the ethics department at Princeton University, has promoted this view on an academic level.
Because the American Scientific Affiliation is a Christian organization, the euthanasia alternative is dismissed by the magazine. Instead, it suggests ways that faith can help patients and caregivers deal with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
If your view of life is that it is all about “survival of the fittest,” then Alzheimer’s is simply a demonstration that the patient is not fit. That would suggest a treatment that concerns itself more with those who are fit and doesn’t address the quality of life objective that Christ would teach for the patient. For more about ASA go to their website. To see the issue on Alzheimer’s Disease and God click here.
–John N. Clayton © 2017