Writing as a man nearing death, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago, has sent a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court asking the justices not to find that terminally ill people have a constitutional right to doctor-assisted suicide.
“I am at end of my earthly life,” wrote the cardinal, who has terminal pancreatic cancer. “There is much that I have contemplated these last few months of my illness, but as one who is dying, I have especially come to appreciate the gift of life.”
Bernardin wrote that the issue was an important public matter, not simply a private decision:
“Our legal and ethical tradition has held consistently that suicide, assisted-suicide, and euthanasia are wrong because they involve a direct attack on innocent human life.”
Catholic teaching distinguishes between euthanasia, which it condemns as murder, and an individual’s decision to forgo extraordinary medical treatment, which it says may be permissible where it would be futile or overly burdensome. Bernardin stopped chemotherapy in October, after doctors told him the treatments were not helping.
“I know from my own experience that patients often face difficult and deeply personal decisions,” he wrote. “I also know that even a person who decides to forgo treatment does not necessarily choose death. Rather, he chooses life without the burden of disproportionate medical intervention.”
But the cardinal drew a sharp distinction between such a decision and the court rulings on suicide.
“There can be no such thing as a ‘right to assisted suicide’ because there can be no legal and moral order which tolerates the killing of innocent human life.”