TIME Plays TV Doctor: Suggests Vatican Gave Pope John Paul II A Push Into Death

TIME magazine is looking for hypocrites in Vatican City, carrying a story headlined “Was John Paul II Euthanized?” Reporter Jeff Israely cited a “provocative article” in the Italian media that an intensive-care specialist concluded that John Paul's death was “caused by what the Catholic Church itself would consider euthanasia. She bases this conclusion on her medical expertise and her own observations of the ailing pontiff on television.”

But wait, doesn't that sound a lot like Sen. Bill Frist in 2005 suggesting a diagnosis for Terri Schiavo based on his expertise and TV watching? Back then, TIME thought that wasn't merely provocative, but the act of a “truly unhinged” man, a “dodo.” TIME insulted Frist for that in six different articles. But Pope-bashers merely ask “provocative” questions. 

The Israely article began:

In a provocative article, an Italian medical professor argues that Pope John Paul II didn't just simply slip away as his weakness and illness overtook him in April 2005. Intensive care specialist Dr. Lina Pavanelli has concluded that the ailing Pope's April 2 death was caused by what the Catholic Church itself would consider euthanasia. She bases this conclusion on her medical expertise and her own observations of the ailing pontiff on television, as well as press reports and a subsequent book by John Paul's personal physician.

Israely does quickly, but gently, suggest that this doctor is not a disinterested observer, but a partisan on the other hand of the bioethics debate:

The article, entitled “The Sweet Death of Karol Wojtyla” (using the Pope's birth name) appears in the latest edition of Micromega, a highbrow Italian bi-monthly that has frequently criticized the Vatican's stance on bioethics. The author, who heads the anesthesiology and intensive care therapy school at the University of Ferrara, says she decided to revisit the events around John Paul's death after the Vatican took a hard line in a controversy last year in Italy over euthanasia.

Israely does provide the Vatican counterpoint, including the doctor who treated the dying pontiff, but then concludes the article by suggesting that the Vatican's opponents have a small problem in doing TV diagnosis, but with a distinct effort to blur the question into a question, and make no negative judgment of the TV doctor:

The medical aspects of the Pope's final days are clearly difficult to verify from afar, and the Vatican is convinced that the actions of the both its doctors and its Pope were in absolute good faith. Of course, medical opinions can often vary. So too can those on bioethics.

This is not what happened in 2005. TIME did not suggest there were respectable differences of medical opinion on Terri Schiavo as her husband agitated to pull her feeding tube and get on with his new life with a different woman. Frist was an “unhinged dodo.” Here are the six occasions in which TIME questioned or plain insulted Frist's actions in the Schiavo debate.

April 11, 2005 issue: In a column dedicated to warning Democrats about letting judges decide every case, Time's Joe Klein stipulated:

Bill Frist's ridiculous videotape diagnosis of the stricken woman, DeLay's toxic effusions, the President's unseemly dash to Washington to sign the Schiavo legislation all found their just rewards in the polls that revealed an overwhelming public disgust with the political shenanigans.

April 18, 2005: Time reporter Massimo Calabresi vaguely criticized Frist:

But recent political losses--like his clumsy handling of the Terri Schiavo case--leave him a long way from presidential stature.

June 27, 2005: TIME's Verbatim section of the week's notable quotes mocked Frist:

“I never, never, on the floor of the Senate, made a diagnosis, nor would I ever do that.”

BILL FRIST, Senate majority leader, defending comments he made in March about Terri Schiavo's condition. In that debate, the former heart surgeon said, “There seems to be insufficient information to conclude that Terry Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state”

December 5, 2005: In reviewing The Year in Medicine, Time's Jeffrey Kluger lamented:

Things got even worse in 2005 when health policy descended to health politics, and never more so than during the tragic burlesque surrounding the death of Terri Schiavo, the 41-year-old brain-damaged Florida woman whose husband petitioned to have her feeding tube removed. Advocates on both sides of the end-of-life debate leaped into the fray, but it was in Congress that the situation came truly unhinged. Senate majority leader and heart surgeon Bill Frist “spent an hour or so” viewing a widely circulated videotape of Schiavo--but never examined the patient--and pronounced himself unconvinced that she was irreversibly brain damaged. Tom DeLay went further, opining that Schiavo “talks and she laughs and she expresses happiness and discomfort.” An autopsy later showed that Schiavo never could have recovered. Her ruined brain had atrophied to half its normal size.

April 3, 2006: In an article on Frist's presidential ambitions and his hopes to pass an immigration “reform” package, Perry Bacon Jr. warned:

At the start of 2005, Bill Frist seemed to have the political Midas touch. A successful surgeon, the Tennessee Republican had blossomed in his second career, rising from his election to the U.S. Senate in 1994 to the post of majority leader in 2002. But last year, while Frist tried to both manage an unwieldy Senate and prepare for a 2008 presidential run, he often sounded off-balance -- as when he inserted himself into the Terri Schiavo controversy, boldly but mistakenly arguing that her doctors misdiagnosed her vegetative state.

April 10, 2006: This cycle of TIME's usual liberal editorializing returned to its origins in a column by Joe Klein:

Why would a man universally described as kind and intelligent suddenly start acting like a dodo? Presidential ambition, of course. Frist's descent began a year ago, when he destroyed his reputation for medical probity by announcing, on the Senate floor, that he had seen the videotapes of Terri Schiavo, “and from my standpoint as a physician, I would be very careful before I would come to the floor and say this ... Based on the footage provided me ... she does respond.” This was utter nonsense, as subsequent autopsies of Schiavo's brain proved. “He didn't have to go that far,” another Republican Senator told me. “He simply could have opposed pulling the plug on Schiavo.”

If liberals were so concerned about scientific hypocrites, they should line up to denounce this Italian doctor who's diagnosing the Pope's death from videotape, just for displaying disrespect for the scientific method. But when the secularist science lobby is bashing faith-based opponents, then they somehow remain superior, they can practice faulty science, but remain “scientifically correct.”

Apparently, TIME thinks that the Vatican's opponents can never go too far, or come unhinged, or play health politics, or commit “ridiculous videotape diagnosis,” or dance a “tragic burlesque.” Being an opponent of pro-lifers means never having to say you're sorry.