The battle to defend life against the Culture of Death has many fronts. The most prominent, of course, is the defense of the unborn child in the womb. But increasingly, we must turn our attention to the end of life, where the weak and vulnerable are the targets of attack.
The movement to legalize assisted suicide has been growing in strength here in the United States. It has already advanced in Europe, and even in Canada. But its message of despair is getting more traction here as well. Only a handful of states have bought the serpent's message so far, but last year California fell, and that gives the movement considerable momentum. They are turning their attention -- and sending their extremely well-funded lobbyists -- into a number of other states, including New York.
The battle over assisted suicide will soon be joined in our State Legislature. Two bills are pending there, and we expect this legislative session to be the opening round of a long struggle. I laid out the basic arguments in an
earlier blog post
But the enemies of life are also seeking to obtain their goal in the cheap and easy way -- by going to court. Last year, a group of advocates and patients filed a lawsuit in New York State court in Manhattan, seeking to have our laws against assisted suicide overturned. Their argument is based on a spurious constitutional argument. The Attorney General of New York has the duty to defend our law, which gave us some trepidation at the start of the case -- the AG is staunchly pro-abortion, and no friend of the cause of life. But his office did a good job defending the law in the lower court, and were victorious. But the case is now before an appellate panel, and will eventually be decided by our Court of Appeals.
The time had come for the Church to enter the field. So, the New York State Catholic Conference has filed an amicus curiae brief, explaining the compelling state interest in banning assisted suicide, and pointing out the dangers to religious liberty if the courts were to overturn the ban. I was the principal author of the brief, asssisted by my colleague Alexis Carra. If you're interested in reading the whole brief, you can download it
The argument in the brief focuses primarily on the reasons that we have laws against assisted suicide. This is an important part of defending the current law -- depending on the legal standard that the court applies, there must be either a "rational basis" for the law, or it must advance a "compelling government interest". I have found that in many cases, there haven't been sufficient explanations of the moral and religious reasons for a law, or for a request for an exemption from a law. I've seen this in litigation involving abortion, suicide, and religious liberty. All too often, the argument is presented in a conclusory or perfunctory way. This has always struck me as a terrible missed opportunity to explain to judges (many of whom have no understanding or sympathy for religious institutions) why these issues matter so much to us, and why we feel so strongly about them.
Another reason for making these arguments is so that they are out there in the public square. Defenders of traditional moral standards are typically put on the defensive, which allows our adversaries to set the agenda. It's also a problem that we frequently make our arguments purely in secular terms, which misses the chance to do some indirect evangelization. Even though I often like to say that all I care about is winning, in reality all I really care about is spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ by whatever means available.
So, the battle is joined in yet another forum. No rest for the defenders of life.