Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Brief Amici Curiae of the United States Catholic Conference et Al. in Support of Attorney General Ashcroft *

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Brief Amici Curiae of the United States Catholic Conference et Al. in Support of Attorney General Ashcroft *

Article excerpt

Interest of Amici (1)

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is a nonprofit corporation organized under the laws of the District of Columbia. Its members are the active Catholic Bishops in the United States. The Bishops of Oregon are also members of the Oregon Catholic Conference. Through the Conferences the Bishops speak collegially on matters affecting the Catholic Church, its people, and society as a whole. The Conferences advocate and promote the pastoral teaching of the Church on many diverse issues, including the sanctity and dignity of human life. The ethical distinction made in law and medicine between legitimate treatment of pain and assisting suicide, a distinction that underlies the Attorney General's action in this case and that is challenged in the Intervenors' filings, has been heavily influenced by concepts of intentionality and moral responsibility that have their foundation in the Church's centuries-old teaching. The Conferences are therefore especially well-suited to address this distinction and its importance to the integrity of the medical profession and to the important societal interests in promoting health and relieving pain and suffering.

The Catholic Health Association of the United States ("CHA") is the national leadership organization of the Catholic health ministry, engaged in the strategic directions of mission, ethics and advocacy This ministry, which is comprised of more than 2,000 not-for-profit Catholic health care systems, sponsors, facilities, health plans, and related organizations, is rooted in and informed by a deeply held commitment to promote and defend human life and human dignity. CHA's interest in this case stems from its concern for the need to protect vulnerable persons; to insure appropriate care for dying persons; to preserve the integrity of the health care professions; to strengthen the bonds of community; and also to preserve the integrity of the Catholic health ministry.

Summary of Argument

"[A]ssisting suicide is not a `legitimate medical purpose.'" 66 Fed. Reg. 56607, 56608 (Nov. 9, 2001). That simple declaration is at the root of this litigation. Indeed, it would appear to be a self-evident declaration. Medicine by its very definition aims to prevent illness, to heal, and to alleviate pain. (2) Taking a human life accomplishes none of these objectives. To say that it does creates an inherent contradiction, like saying that the legitimate practice of law includes helping clients break the law. The analogy is apt because helping to kill is precisely the opposite of what medicine is and does. Cooperating with killing positively impedes the overarching goods to which medicine is devoted. This is as true on a practical level as in principle, for recourse to legitimate care of the dying, including palliative care, is advanced when ethics and law forbid doctors to help patients take their own lives. Allowing intentional lethal acts will not make it easier for patients to obtain the medical care they need, but will only impede their ability to obtain such care. What virtually every state regards as a crime, indeed as a form of homicide, does not become "medicine" simply because the perpetrator is a doctor, the patient is terminally ill, or one state has decided to rescind its own criminal penalties for the act.

The Attorney General correctly concluded that assisting suicide is not a legitimate medical purpose, but that pain management is. 66 Fed. Reg. 56607, 56608 (Nov. 9, 2001). It is apparent from its opinion and its remarks at oral argument that the District Court did not appreciate this distinction, and indeed saw assisted suicide as a form of, and indistinct from, pain management. Transcript of Oral Argument, Nov. 20, 2001, at 69 (suggesting, based on "Law Review Articles," that the medical distinction between "assisted death" and "terminal care" is "blurr[ed]"); 192 F. Supp. 2d 1077, 1079 (D. Or. 2002) (suggesting that assisted suicide serves the interest in "end[ing] suffering"). …

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