Gloria White-Hammond: Church Spurs Parishioners To Plan For Illness And Death

By Melissa Bailey

“It would feel like murder to pull her life support,” a young woman tells the doctor.

The woman sits by a hospital bed where her mother, Selena, lies unresponsive, hooked up to a
breathing tube. The daughter has already made one attempt to save her mother’s life; she
pulled Selena out of the car and performed CPR when her heart stopped en route to the
hospital — an experience she calls “beyond terrifying.”

Now the doctor tells the family Selena will never wake up in a meaningful way. But the daughter
says she can’t let her mother go: “I’m always looking for another miracle.”

The scene, captured in the documentary “Extremis,” took place in a hospital’s intensive care
unit in Oakland, Calif.

Three thousand miles away, at Boston’s Bethel AME Church one recent fall evening, the Rev.
Gloria White-Hammond watched the film with a group of women from her predominantly black
congregation. As they gathered around a long table in the church’s youth center at 7 p.m.,
White-Hammond offered oranges and chocolate chip cookies — and a warning that the film
might be very hard to watch.


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