Letters to the Editor

Pope John Paul II a role model

Terry Munson's letter ("Columnist's view rejects sense," Jan. 22), a commentary on columnist Charles Krauthammer's Jan. 1 column on Medicare's end-of life counseling (deceitful, in Munson's view), has compelled me to take pen-in-hand (a keyboard these days).

An original Obamacare provision (dropped on Jan. 5) provided financial incentives for doctors to provide end-of-life counseling.

And just how might that counseling go? "Look dear. You've had a good life, but your physical state now renders you unproductive and totally dependent. What have you got to offer your family, your friends, society, lying there day-in and day-out, needing assistance with the most personal and intimate functions of life?

"Think of the cost to your family even with government assistance, and think what those funds could do for your family's other needs. Just take this pill and go to sleep. There will be no need to call me in the morning and you'll have peace of mind."

Or, "Dear, the government is dispensing with your medical care payments. It is just too expensive. The full financial burden will fall on your family now. This pill will ..."

Are the scenarios that I have penned unrealistic, cruel and heartless depictions, or, as Munson might say, a callous derision of late-life reflection and planning? Let me suggest a distinctly different point of view.

Later this year I will turn 70. My health is relatively good, with a few minor concerns that medication and diet address. I play golf when and as often as it pleases me, and have no need for physical assistance. But I have no guarantee that my health will remain as uncomplicated as it is now. I could become incapacitated in a heartbeat or for lack of one.

So, I too have engaged in "late-life reflection," and that which gives me the perspective I hope will endure to my end of life is the example of Pope John Paul II.

As a young man, John Paul II was full of vim and vigor, strong and athletic, a mountain climber and swimmer. As pontiff he exhibited a strength and exhilaration that matched his enthusiastic embrace of the call to St. Peter's chair. His worldwide travels were unprecedented. Survival and recovery from an assassin's bullet was a testament to his moral and physical strength. What then must have been this great man's reaction to the development of his progressively debilitating Parkinson's disease? Surely he knew what must be his fate, the tremors in his hands, and the unsteadiness of gait, the masklike facial expression, the inability to speak, and this for all the world to see. Many thought he should relinquish the papacy. But he adamantly refused, not from pride, mind you, but from a deep religious faith that his suffering had profound meaning. The nobility with which he accepted his suffering, and the dignity with which he carried on to the end was a testimony to his very deep respect for God's gift of life and for his own redeemed humanity.

Respect for life was the hallmark of Pope John Paul II's own life as a man, a priest, and a pope. On May 1, 2011, he will be proclaimed, "blessed" by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, and deservedly so.

The writer lives in Carolina Shores, N.C.