The death of Pope John Paul II came at a time when Americans have been engaged in an unusual moment of national reflection about mortality. The long, bitter fight over the unknowing Terri Schiavo was a stark contrast to the passing of this pontiff, whose own mind was keenly aware of the gradual failure of his body. The pope would certainly never have wanted his own end to be a lesson in the transcendent importance of allowing humans to choose their own manner of death. But to some of us, that was the exact message of his dignified departure.
I'm chalk-full of "stark contrasts" for the Times:
- Terri Schiavo was starved to death; Karol Wojtyla died peacefully of natural causes.
- More than a decade before she was starved and on more than one occasion, Terri was denied routine treatment for infections; the pope received antibiotics to treat sepsis shortly before his death.
- Terri had her feeding tube pulled; the pope took nutrition through a nasal feeding tube before his death.
- Terri was in no pain; the pope's suffering was visible every day for years.
Instead, he submitted to suffering on its own terms, accepting life as a gift of the Divine. In doing so, he followed Christ in the way of the cross. "Death with dignity" was not for Christ,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.