There is a lot of misinformation floating around out there about so-called Death Panels, thanks chiefly to Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and the next president of the United States. Sometimes Ms. Palin gets a little mixed up. She didn’t get all her facts straight about Death Panels, which, as it turns out, really do exist—but not exactly in the form she describes.
Thanks to the offices of my old girlfriend, Roma Downey, whom I dated on and off for several years in the late 1980s, I was able to get in touch with someone who has actually served on a Death Panel. As you no doubt know, Roma spent several years as an angel sent by former torch singer Della Reese to bring mortals home to heaven. Through her work, Roma became acquainted with a number of angels in heaven, some of whom served on Death Panels and whose duty it was to decide when to pull the plug on us clueless mortal beings.
I’m glad I stayed on good terms with Roma, because she was happy to help out and put me in touch with an immortal being named Murray Plenck, who had spent his mortal existence as a goat herder in ancient Palestine. (He is not to be confused with the Murray Plenck who was the owner of a tire franchise in Toledo, Ohio.) Murray agreed to meet me for coffee at the Sheraton Hotel, where he was participating in the Sunstone Symposium (he gave a paper entitled “Are There Dentists in Heaven?”). After some small talk, we got right to the topic at hand:
Deep End: How long did you serve on a Death Panel?
Murray: Close to a thousand years.
Deep End: Didn’t you get tired of it?
Murray: A thousand years is just a drop in the bucket, eternity-wise. I was happy for the work.
Deep End: How did you get picked to serve on the Death Panel?
Murray: It’s kind of like jury duty. You get something in the mail telling you to show up, and you sit around until they call your number.
Deep End: How many Death Panels are there in heaven?
Murray: Oh, Lord, must be thousands and thousands. My panel was in charge of southern Idaho, Utah and parts of Nevada, including Las Vegas.
Deep End: I thought God, our Heavenly Father, was the one who decided when to call any of his children home.
Murray: Technically, yes. But sometime during the Dark Ages, he just got too depressed. He had a quota to fill, but it got out of hand. People were dropping like flies.
Deep End: He had a quota? I thought he was The Man.
Murray: You want to debate theology or get the lowdown on Death Panels?
Deep End: So tell me, how do you decide when it’s time for someone to die?
Murray: God gives us some general guidelines, but we pretty much just wing it.
Deep End: You mean you don’t punish the wicked and reward the righteous?
Murray: Are you kidding me? What planet do you live on, pal? Do you think we have time to weigh the scales in every individual case? Besides, everyone has to die sooner or later, so what’s the point of playing Santy Claus and deciding if you’ve been bad or good?
Deep End: So it’s totally random?
Murray: More or less. But we do try to mix it up a bit, keep people guessing. And we like to test everyone’s faith. If death were fair and predictable, it would be pretty boring. Boring for you and boring for us. The lucky ones are struck down quick, falling into a vat of chocolate, or crushed by a vending machine, or broadsided by some kid texting instead of looking where he’s going.
Deep End: What about children? The suffering of the innocents and all that?
Murray: What, are you going sentimental on me now? I’ll just say this: God gets plenty pissed off when you bring up that subject. In fact, he starts to fade away into non-existence until all the cherubs and cherubim start singing his praises. Hey, gotta go. Be talking to you.
DeepEnd: Hope not.