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Meditation 321
Pain and Suffering is Good for You?

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Vatican denounces 'health-fiend madness'
Rejecting society's costly quest for cures, Rome says Pope's suffering is to be admired

The Vatican accused affluent societies yesterday of gobbling up too much of the world's health-care resources with their fetish for stay-young-forever medical cures, urging them to look to Pope John Paul II as a model for the inevitability of old age and illness whose stoic suffering should be imitated.

Vatican psychiatrist Manfred Lutz hailed the 85-year-old Pope as "the living alternative to the prevailing health-fiend madness."

Referring to the Pope's advanced Parkinson's disease and other illnesses, Dr. Lutz said: "Precisely in the handicap, in the disease, in the pain, in old age, in dying and death, one can . . . perceive the truth of life in a clearer way."

It was rather an abrupt turnabout for the Vatican, which has vigorously obscured -- even lied about -- the Pope's state of health in the past.

But in advance of a conference on quality of life and the ethics of health, sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Life, officials adjusted the papal image to fit their argument: that while the world's poor do without basic public-health measures, rich countries luxuriate in utopian expectations of medical cures for all needs and desires.

"The medicine of desires, egged on by the health-care market, increases the request for pharmaceutical and medical-surgical services [and] soaks up public resources beyond all reasonableness," academy theologian Rev. Maurizio Faggioni said.

"Medicine has become impossible to manage, because it can't fulfill the desires" of consumers for perfect health, added Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, a bioethicist who heads the academy, a Vatican advisory body.

Globe and Mail, 18 February, 2005

I tend to agree in one small way with the Vatican on this issue. I do think we spend far too much on health care for the dying. But from there, our paths diverge.

Some of the "heroic measures" medical professionals take to prolong life tend to prolong pain and suffering. Rather than that, when my time comes, I want my way eased by an appropriate drug cocktail that keeps me pain-free, mildly buzzed, and mentally alert to the end. It is a lot less expensive, and it preserves human dignity.

I have not had a pain-free day in better than 35 years, and I can assure Vatican psychiatrist Dr. Lutz from personal experience that it has not enabled me to "perceive the truth of life in a clearer way." Rather, the truth of life kicks in when the painkillers do.

But, if the Vatican really feels that handicaps, disease, pain and suffering are beneficial, then why does the Catholic Church continue to operate shrines such as Lourdes around the world where the afflicted can travel at great expense to seek a miracle cure? I would suggest to bioethicist Monsignor Elio Sgreccia that these shrines must have become impossible to manage because they do not and indeed cannot fulfill the desires of the faithful for perfect health.

Perhaps pain and suffering in his old age is good for Pope John Paul II. He may be the best judge of that, and he has access to medical care which most of us can only dream of. But, that does not necessarily make it good for the rest of us.

Just as the Pope is allowed to be the judge of his health-care needs, let others be the judge of theirs.