Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the terminally ill archbishop of
Chicago, has asked the Supreme Court to uphold laws banning
In a letter to be filed with the court today, Bernardin urges
the court to reject the argument that Americans have a
constitutional right to end their lives with a physician's help.
"I am at the end of my earthly life," begins the letter from
Bernardin, 68, who has gpancreatic cancer and who last month
announced that he would forgo more chemotherapy. "I know from my
own experience that patients often face difficult and deeply
personal decisions about their care. . . .
"Creating a new `right' to assisted suicide will endanger
society and send a false signal that a less than `perfect' life is
not worth living."
The letter is an appendix to a friend-of-the-court brief to be
filed by the Catholic Health Association, a St. Louis-based group
of 1,200 Catholic hospitals and nursing homes. Similar briefs are
to be filed by other groups defending state laws banning
doctor-assisted suicide, along with attorneys general from New York
and Washington state, whose laws the court will consider.
Earlier this year, federal appeals courts struck down the New
York and Washington state laws, setting the stage for the Supreme
Court's consideration of the issue. Briefs defending the appeals
courts' decisions are due within a month, and the court will hear
arguments in January.
Backers of the state laws say there is no legal basis for the
Supreme Court to recognize a new right to assisted death. They say
such a ruling would be an ethical nightmare for doctors and open
the door to unsavory practices by people who stand to gain from the
suicide of others.
Opponents say the terminally ill should be able to decide swhen
to die and to call on doctors for help. They liken it to the right
to notify doctors in advance not to keep them alive by artificial
The cases mark the first time the Supreme Court has taken up
the so-called "right to die" issue since 1990, when it ruled in a
case involving Nancy Cruzan, a Missouri woman whose parents wanted
to end artificial life supports. The court said then that a person
has a constitutionally protected right to refuse unwanted medical
treatment, while upholding Missouri's requirement of clear and
convincing evidence of a comatose patient's wishes before treatment
In his letter, Bernardin says there is a big distinction
between removing life support and suicide. ". . . Even a person who
decides to forgo treatment does not necessarily choose death,"
Bernardin wrote. "Rather, he chooses life without the burden of
disproportionate medical intervention. …