Friday, May 13, 2011

Harmon Killebrew Chooses To Discontinue Fight Against Esophageal Cancer, Will Enter Hospice

Update May 17th: Only four days after Harmon Killebrew announced his intention to go into hospice, he passes on at the age of 74. Read report and tribute to him at Sports Illustrated.

On December 31st, 2010, I documented on how Hall 0f Fame baseball player Harmon Killebrew was beginning the toughest fight of his life -- a fight against esophageal cancer. The outcome was not considered promising, because esophageal cancer is not often diagnosed until the late stage. Despite that, in March, Killebrew reported he was feeling great and was optimistic about a recovery.

But On May 13th, 2011, Harmon Killebrew announced that he no longer plans to fight his esophageal cancer and has settled in for the final days of his life. He said the cancer has been deemed incurable by his doctors and he will enter hospice care. Killebrew issued the following statement:

“It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end. With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors’ expectation of cure.

"I have spent the past decade of my life promoting hospice care and educating people on its benefits. I am very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides.

"I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by my family and friends. I thank you for the outpouring of concern, prayers and encouragement that you have shown me. I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side.

No prognosis was given by Killebrew's doctors as to how much longer he might live. But instead of enduring chemotherapy, he'll now be kept as comfortable as possible to deal with pain. A discussion thread on provides some insight as to what Killebrew can expect and how much longer he might live.

The 74-year-old Killebrew, who spent 21 seasons with the Washington Senators, the Minnesota Twins, and the Kansas City Royals, currently ranks 11th on the all-time major league home run list with 573, and his eight seasons with 40 or more homers still is tied for second in league history with Babe Ruth. He was selected for the All-Star Game 11 times, and was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1969. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984. You can find his career statistics on Baseball Reference, and an expanded account of his life on Wikipedia. Killebrew has maintained a regular presence around the Twins over the years. He made an effort to get to know almost all the current players, striking particularly close friendships with Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Jim Thome among others.

Lesser known is the fact that Harmon Killebrew converted to the LDS Church in 1966. Throughout the years, he reportedly became less active, but continued to attend services from time to time and continues to believe in the doctrine. The LDS Church distinguishes between euthanasia (assisted suicide), of which they disapprove, vs. allowing a person to die from natural causes, of which they approve. The Church sets forth its position in this statement from the Topical Guide:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in the sanctity of human life, and is therefore opposed to euthanasia. Euthanasia is defined as deliberately putting to death a person who is suffering from an incurable condition or disease. Such a deliberate act ends life immediately through, for example, so-called assisted suicide. Ending a life in such a manner is a violation of the commandments of God.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not believe that allowing a person to die from natural causes by removing a patient from artificial means of life support, as in the case of a long-term illness, falls within the definition of euthanasia. When dying from such an illness or an accident becomes inevitable, it should be seen as a blessing and a purposeful part of eternal existence. Members should not feel obligated to extend mortal life by means that are unreasonable. These judgments are best made by family members after receiving wise and competent medical advice and seeking divine guidance through fasting and prayer.

Harmon Killebrew's decision is not euthanasia; it's simply refusing heroic measures to keep himself alive. He's lived a full life, has fulfilled the measure of his mortality, and is preparing to return to our Heavenly Father.


Brian Ross Tanning said...

Harmon may have converted to the LDS church in 1966 but his funeral on May 20th is being held at an evangelical Christian church in Peoria, Arizona--so it does not look like he continued with the LDS belief system...

Chad said...

Interesting, but Harmon's actions in life (including attendance at LDS churches when he attended church), not drinking, smoking, swearing, etc. indicate a continued LDS belief system. Whatever the case, he was a good example in a lot of ways for all Christians, be they Evangelical or LDS or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I know of no source where Harmon Killebrew revealed his true feelings regarding his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Without this source, it is mere speculation what was in his heart. Still, his actions speak to a man who practiced a Christ-like life. It is best to leave any judgment to Him who knows us perfectly.