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Love never abandons the suffering

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A frail old man lies in bed, with a nasal-gastric tube giving him liquid nourishment. He is surrounded by loved ones. He is dying.

It's a scene that repeats itself every day. In this case, the whole world is paying attention, because the dying man is Pope John Paul II.

We grew accustomed to seeing the pope old and sick, because the symptoms of his illness--trembling, frailty, loss of speech--were not hidden from the world. The man who opened his pontificate with "Be not afraid!" bravely underwent what we fear the most: weakness.

Discussions of end-of-life issues often fixate on curtailing suffering or "dying with dignity," but deeper issues go unspoken: how do we accept weakness, both in ourselves and in others? Where do we place our hope--in our accomplishments or in God and love?

"Autonomy"? Or Fear?

Pain is a terrifying thing. That's why those who advocate for doctor-prescribed suicide dwell on it. Look at "Jane Smith," they might say: a woman with late-stage bone cancer in untreatable pain, who rationally asks her doctor to prescribe a drug that will end her misery.

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