Saturday, April 09, 2005

Living Will (2)

And another one. You know, these would be funnier if they weren't so true...

Like many of you, I have been compelled by recent events to prepare a more detailed advance directive dealing with end-of-life issues. Here's what mine says:


* In the event I lapse into a persistent vegetative state, I want medical authorities to resort to extraordinary means to prolong my hellish semiexistence. Fifteen years wouldn't be long enough for me.

* I want my wife and my parents to compound their misery by engaging in a bitter and protracted feud that depletes their emotions and their bank accounts.

* I want my wife to ruin the rest of her life by maintaining an interminable vigil at my bedside. I'd be really jealous if she waited less than a decade to start dating again or otherwise rebuilding a semblance of a normal life.

* I want my case to be turned into a circus by losers and crackpots from around the country who hope to bring meaning to their empty lives by investing the same transient emotion in me that they once reserved for Laci Peterson, Chandra Levy and that little girl who got stuck in a well.

* I want those crackpots to spread vicious lies about my wife.

* I want to be placed in a hospice where protesters can gather to bring further grief and disruption to the lives of dozens of dying patients and families whose stories are sadder than my own.

* I want the people who attach themselves to my case because of their deep devotion to the sanctity of life to make death threats against any judges, elected officials or health care professionals who disagree with them.

* I want the medical geniuses and philosopher kings who populate the Florida Legislature to ignore me for more than a decade and then turn my case into a forum for weeks of politically calculated bloviation.

* I want total strangers - oily politicians, maudlin news anchors, ersatz friars, and all other hangers-on - to start calling me "Bill," as if they had known me since childhood.

* I'm not insisting on this as part of my directive, but it would be nice if Congress passed a "Bill's Law" that applied only to me and ignored the medical needs of tens of millions of other Americans without adequate health coverage.

* Even if the "Bill's Law" idea doesn't work out, I want Congress - especially all those self-described conservatives who claim to believe in "less government and more freedom" - to trample on the decisions of doctors, judges, and other experts who actually know something about my case. And I want members of Congress to launch into an extended debate that gives them another excuse to avoid pesky issues such as national security and the economy.

* In particular, I want House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to use my case as an opportunity to divert the country's attention from the mounting political and legal troubles stemming from his slimy misbehavior.

* And I want Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to make a mockery of his Harvard medical degree by misrepresenting the details of my case in ways that might give a boost to his 2008 presidential campaign.

* I want Frist and the rest of the world to judge my medical condition on the basis of a snippet of dated and demeaning videotape that should have remained private.

* Because I think I would retain my sense of humor even in a persistent vegetative state, I'd want President Bush - the same guy who publicly mocked Karla Faye Tucker when signing off on her death warrant as governor of Texas - to claim he was intervening in my case because it is always best "to err on the side of life."

* I want the state Department of Children and Families to step in at the last moment to take responsibility for my well-being, because nothing bad could ever happen to anyone under DCF's care.

* And because Gov. Jeb Bush is the smartest and most righteous human being on the face of the Earth, I want any and all of the aforementioned directives to be disregarded if the governor happens to disagree with them. If he says he knows what's best for me, I won't be in any position to argue.

Living Will (1)

One of the funny-but-sad items that landed in my mailbox as poor Terri Schiavo's should-have-been-personal tragedy played itself out across our 24-hour-news networks.

Living Will

I, _________________________ (fill in the blank), being of sound mind and body, do not wish to be kept alive indefinitely by artificial means.

Under no circumstances should my fate be put in the hands of peckerwood politicians who couldn't pass ninth-grade biology if their lives depended on it.

If a reasonable amount of time passes and I fail to sit up and ask for a cold beer, it should be presumed that I won't ever get better. When such a determination is reached, I hereby instruct my spouse, children and attending physicians to pull the plug, reel in the tubes and call it a day.

Under no circumstances shall the members of the Legislature enact a special law to keep me on life-support machinery. It is my wish that these boneheads mind their own damn business, and pay attention instead to the health, education and future of the millions of Americans who aren't in a permanent coma.

Under no circumstances shall any politicians butt into this case. I don't care how many fundamentalist votes they're trying to scrounge for their run for the presidency in 2008, it is my wish that they play politics with someone else's life and leave me alone to die in peace.

I couldn't care less if a hundred religious zealots send e-mails to legislators in which they pretend to care about me. I don't know these people, and I certainly haven't authorized them to preach and crusade on my behalf. They should mind their own business too.

If any of my family goes against my wishes and turns my case into a political cause, I hereby promise to come back from the grave and make his or her existence a living hell.



Thursday, April 07, 2005


To be honest, I had to look and see how many popes I've shared the planet with. When you're a kid--or at least when I was--he's just "the pope," with no other identity beyond that title. I do recall the death of Pope Paul, in 1978--after all, by then I was 22--and the 32-day-long reign of John Paul I; and of course the exciting and unexpected election of Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II.

Anyhow, I looked it up and, to my surprise, there have been five popes since I came on the scene in late 1956. They are...

Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli), pope from 1939 till his death in 1958;
John XXIII (Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli), 1958-1963
Paul VI (Giovanni Battista Montini), 1963-1978
John Paul I (Albino Luciani), 1978
John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla), 1978-2005

The Holy See's official website has, as you might expect, a good deal of information about recent popes. See

And there's a short article about the "official" mourning process here:

Watching news coverage of what can only be described as the death watch for John Paul II was interesting. I guess. First, it was a fabulous example of the problem with 24-hour news networks, viz., you have to be on and talking EVEN WHEN THERE'S OBVIOUSLY NOTHING NEW. I wasted two hours Saturday morning awaiting a news release that was expected "within the hour"..."within the half-hour"..."any minute now"..."an hour ago." Granted the networks can't control whether or when the Vatican chooses to release information. But their fear of being scooped--and the need to fill time even when not much is going on--causes CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News to prattle on breathlessly about something that MIGHT happen...

Second, I was surprised at how seemingly ignorant some of these TV newspeople seem to be of how the Vatican works. More correctly, how bureaucracy works. At least one woman--didn't catch her name; she was on Fox News, which I don't watch much--was pretty breathless in quizzing her guest, a priest, about who was "in charge" now that the pope was gone. Could she really be so stupid as to think that nothing happens unless the pope is there barking out orders like the deranged captain of an ancient sea-vessel?

(Well, it being Fox News, it's entirely possible she was that stupid. And yet, there I was watching it...)

But certainly anyone with any real-world experience at all knows that any institution, religious or secular, has at least a semi-permanent bureaucracy in place, and that that bureaucracy handles much of not virtually all of the mundane trivia that makes up nine-tenths of the undertaking. The White House, General Motors, Harvard University, the Vatican--all of them, I am confident, can function quite tolerably for some time in the absence of "the head."

(But there I go again: Where would a Fox News reporter get any "real"-world experience?)

My take on the late pope is ambivalent. Typical for me. I liked him, and I felt that he always had the best of intentions. Certainly no one can say that he did not give his all for his faith and his church. But his conservatism--and, in later years, his authoritarianism--undermined what had begun as a promising ecumenical initiative. As the Catholic half of a Catholic-Lutheran marriage, I had hoped for, if not full communion between the churches, at least a movement in that direction. Instead, in recent years, came grumblings from the Vatican that Catholics should not be receiving communion at non-Catholic services--as I have been doing for some years now. And continue to do. And will continue to do, as long as my wife's church continues to invite me to do so. The attitude from the Holy See does not advance the cause of unity that Christ wants for his church: quite the opposite. JP2 had the opportunity and authority to set such things right, but he did not take it.

Curiously, while on his watch relations between the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, my wife's denomination improved greatly at "high levels," things seemed to stagnate and even backslide on the "pew level." And that is where ecumenism must happen, if it is to have any validity.

The next pope, I think, will be at least as conservative as John Paul II. Probably a short-timer. And after that... As the Catholic church--and the whole Christian church--shifts below the Equator, an even more conservative world, the prospects of a renewal of the church, a revitalization of ecumenism, and the attainment of real Christian unity seem increasingly remote.