Friday, September 28, 2007

Thorough Glimpse at JPII

Thanks again to John Allen, another fine (but long) article in response to the continuing discussion noise on JP the Great's death.

Please read it here. You probably will be asked about it.

Interesting snippets from the article (if you can't read it all):

First, while Pavanelli's article may raise legitimate questions about medical decisions made with regard to John Paul II, charges of euthanasia seem a stretch. Taking into consideration the pope's two extensive hospitalizations, plus the round-the-clock care given to him in his private apartment from March 13 through his death on April 2 by a whole team of physicians (most of whom were not on the Vatican payroll), it's hard to conclude that routine efforts to preserve his life were neglected.

Further, the first person to have resisted more aggressive measures earlier in 2005 might have been John Paul II himself - and not because he wanted to die, but because he insisted upon living. Throughout his two hospitalizations, the pope repeatedly demanded to return to the Vatican in order to resume at least a minimal level of activity. He also insisted upon making public appearances, even when he couldn't speak. Most famously, he appeared at his window overlooking St. Peter's Square on Easter Sunday, March 27, struggling to deliver a blessing, but in the end remaining mute. The pope stayed at the window for 12 minutes and 15 seconds, and at two points pushed away aides who tried to wheel him back inside.

Dr. Corrado Manni, who treated John Paul II after the assassination attempt in 1981, expressed sympathy for anyone trying to persuade the pope to accept treatments that would further restrict his activity: "I understand the difficulties his aides must have in dealing with such a situation … the Holy Father is difficult."

Second, it's hard to escape the impression that the controversy is less about a close medical examination of John Paul's treatment than broader political debates over euthanasia.

That hunch was bolstered by the fact that at the Wednesday press conference in Rome, Pavanelli was flanked by the widow of Piergiorgio Welby, an advanced muscular dystrophy patient who became a national cause célèbre in Italy in 2006 when his pleas to be removed from a respirator and allowed to die triggered anguished national debate. Some have compared the case to American controversies in 2005 over Terry Schiavo, though Welby remained conscious until the end.

Officially, the Catholic church took a strong position against Welby's decision to discontinue life-sustaining treatment. When a Rome parish planned a funeral Mass for Welby following his death in December 2006, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, at the time the pope's vicar for the Rome diocese and president of the Italian bishops' conference, stepped in and refused permission. An outdoor secular ceremony was staged instead on Dec. 24, in a spot adjacent to the parish, with some in the crowd of several thousand chanting "shame, shame!" at the church. Welby's 91-year-old mother declared: "They continue to insult him after his death."

In that context, the suggestion that the church did not walk its own talk in the case of John Paul II carries obvious political significance - explaining, perhaps, both why Micromega has played up Pavanelli's piece, and why the Vatican has gone to such great lengths to refute it.


On his blog for Thursday, Accattoli [an seasoned Italian Journalist] published what he described as "three polemical conclusions" about the debate set off by Pavanelli and Micromega. (For those who read Italian, the entry may be found here.) Accattoli wrote that he does so as someone who covered the pope's illness in first person.

First, Accatoli said, while a diagnosis at a distance may raise interesting questions and generate hypotheses, it cannot provide a basis for the certainty that Pavanelli apparently wants to claim - in particular, her assertion that John Paul II "must have" refused a feeding tube earlier in his illness, because there's no other explanation for why one wasn't used.

Second, Accattoli charges that Pavanelli simply didn't do her homework. Had she bothered consulting the periodic updates on the pope's condition released by the Vatican, he says, she would have found several references to his nutritional intake, all of which are consistent with a picture of slow degeneration matched by increasingly aggressive attempts to arrest the slide.

Third, Accattoli asserts that underlying the positions advanced by Pavanelli and Micromega is a caricature of Catholic moral teaching on end-of-life issues, which makes it sound as if any patient who isn't hooked up to every possible machine is somehow committing mortal sin. That, he suggested, fails to do justice to the church's careful moral reasoning in such cases.

I thought you might enjoy this, or at least find it useful.

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