Ill Cleric Backs Ban on Assisted Suicide Bernardin Tells High Court `Less Than Perfect Life' Is Worth Living

By Tim Poor Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 12, 1996 | Go to article overview

Ill Cleric Backs Ban on Assisted Suicide Bernardin Tells High Court `Less Than Perfect Life' Is Worth Living


Tim Poor Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the terminally ill archbishop of Chicago, has asked the Supreme Court to uphold laws banning doctor-assisted suicide.

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 means. 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 is withdrawn. 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. …

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