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Illness as media spectacle

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 07 April 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:850
  1. Sophie Arie, freelance journalist (
  1. Rome

    Did the display of the pope's suffering go too far?

    No patient with Parkinson's disease has ever died such a public death as Pope John Paul II. In his final weeks, days, and hours, the progress of his disease was visible on the 84 year old's face and chronicled in clinical detail by Vatican bulletins, relayed around the world by every television network, radio, and newspaper.

    On Good Friday giant screens set up around the Coliseum showed the slouched figure as he followed the proceedings of services from his private chapel. His face was not filmed, as he was breathing with the help of a respirator. While any other patient in such advanced stages of the disease would retreat and rest, the leader of the world's Catholics, who had lost 19 kg since his tracheotomy on 23 February, made two heart wrenching appearances at his window overlooking St Peter's Square, looking gaunt, in pain, and distressed as he tried and failed to utter a few words to the Easter crowds.

    In his final days Italian newspapers ran headlines progressively marking the pope's …

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