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September 27, 1996     The Message
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September 27, 1996

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!7, 1996 The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana 9 isted suicide cases await supreme court By PATRICIA ZAPOR Catholic News Service WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The nality of laws pro- dbiting or permitting assisted could be decided this ' the U.S. Supreme Court, been asked to consid= such cases. As the 1996-97 term begins 7, the court has been asked review laws addressing assist- suicide from the states of New and Washington and to rule the validity of an injunction )rohibiting Dr. Jack Kevorkian from participating such suicides. The court also will receive an appeal of ruling the 9th Circuit of Appeals issues in a of Oregon's Death with a voter referendum would allow physician- assisted suicide. In New York, four physicians challenged the constitutionality of the state's law prohibiting doc- tors from helping patients with terminal illnesses who wish to kill themselves. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals April 2 invalidated the law with a rul- ing that equated a patient's right to refuse medical treatment with the decision to choose suicide. In friend-of-the-court briefs, the U.S. Catholic Conference, the Catholic Medical Association and seven current and former members oftheU.S. Civil Rights Commission asked the Supreme Court to review the New York case and reverse the appeals court's decision. The 2nd Circuit invalidated the New York law on the finding that under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the law "does not treat equally all competent persons who are in the final stages of fatal illness and wish to hasten their death." Relying on a different clause of the 14th Amendment, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled March 6 that Washington's anti-suicide law deprives adults of due process in deciding their own fate. In general, the 14th Amendment guarantees certain rights of citizenship. The Supreme Court in June agreed to continue Washington's ban on physician-assisted sui- cide pending its own decision on whether to accept the case. Washington's law was chal- lenged by a group of doctors, the organization Compassion in Dying and three terminally ill people who have since died. Mark Chopko, general counsel for the U.S. Catholic Conference, said he expects the Supreme Court to take both cases and address them separately because they were decided on different constitutional issues. He said the Washington case appears more clearly to be headed for reversal because the 9th Circuit's ruling is "quite extreme" and "an abom- ination of precedent" that the high court will be reluctant to let prevail. Chopko expects a closer ques- tion in the New York case, depending upon how the issues are presented to the court. If the legal argument rests on the find- ing that assisted suicide is no dfferent from allowing someone to die naturally, reversal seems likely. "The lower court got the bal- ance wrong," Chopko said. "It's irrational not to distinguish between letting someone die and making someone die." Oregon's initiative, which has not taken effect pending legal challenges, is awaiting a ruling by the 9th Circuit court. Chopko said that case almost certainly would be appealed to the Supreme Court. The state Catholic conferences of all three states have actively opposed efforts to overturn the laws against assisted suicide. Kevorkian's appeal asks the court to lift an injunction on his efforts to help people commit sui- cide that was imposed by the state of Michigam It cites con- stitutional protections of the right to privacy and to equal pro- tection under the law. Despite the injunction and several unsuccessful state attempts to prosecute him, Kevorkian has continued to participate in assisted suicides. Sister Prejean brings healing message to grieving Pueblo community By CHARLENE SCOTT Catholic News Service PUEBLO, Colo. (CNS) -- Sis- Joseph Helen Prejean, argued against capital pun- in her highly acclaimed )ook "Dead Man Walking," zrged a grieving Pueblo com- not to seek the death for the alleged murder- r of two local priests. In an effort to promote heal- ng, Pueblo Bishop Arthur N. invited Sister Prejean to a Sept. 11 gathering of several hundred people at the Cristo Arts Center. The three-hour program, by the Southern Col- )rado Coalition Against the Penalty, also featured Jaeger, the mother of murdered child, and Robert r of"Deadly Inno- cence," a book on the death penalty and mentally disabled people that focuses on a murder case from the 1930s. On Aug. 7 in Pueblo, Father Thomas Scheets, 65, and Father Louis Stovik, 77, each were stabbed more than 20 times at St. Leander's rectory. An autop- sy showed that both priests bled to death. Douglas J. Comiskey, 20, who lived near the rectory, has been charged in the murders. He was a psychiatric patient in Denver in 1995. "The spirit of God calls us to a better day where mercy will have sway over vengeance," said Sister Pz'ejean, whose best sell- er recounted her experience as spiritual counselor to two Louisiana convicts who died in the electric chair during the 1980s. The nun, whose book was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and turned into an award-win- ning film, still works with death row inmates and with the fami- lies of victims of violence. During the past 10 years, Perske has focused on persons with mental disabilities who have confessed to crimes they did not commit. Currently, he is working on the issue of the death penalty and the mentally disabled with the Clinton administration. "In the United States," he said, "if you are rich and smart, you may beat the death penalty and make a deal, but if you are poor, you can be killed." Jaeger shared the tragic story of the kidnapping and murder of her 7-year-old daughter, Susie, during a family camping trip in Montana 23 years ago. She also recalled her subsequent contact with the kidnapper by phone and three times in person before he committed suicide. Initially "filled with hatred and a desire for revenge," Jaeger said she "had enough knowledge about psychology to know that hatred is not healthy." "I said to God, 'If you want me to forgive, you will have to do it,"' she said. "I gave God per- mission to change my heart. That was the best I could do." "How ever I felt about this man," she said, "in God's eyes, he was just as precious as my little girl. Even though not behaving as one, he was a child of God." Jaeger now is an anti-death penalty activist working on behalf of Murder Victims for leconciliation. Both she and Sister Prejean emphasized that Jesus came to rehabilitate and restore, not to punish. "When you stand in the pres- ence of Marietta, who has lost her own child, you know you have one little part to play, and you are glad to give that one lit- tle part," Sister Prejean said. "You get caught up in the great love that God wants for the world." In 1966, about half the U.S. population approved of capital punishment, but that number has risen to more than 75 per- cent today, she said, signaling "a public mood for vengeance." But Jaeger called on the people of Pueblo to lay aside thoughts of revenge" "Those priests were life. givers, not death dealers," she said. "They are worthy of better. We've been there, and we want the violence to stop. ' ............. "Do not kill in our names or the names of our loved ones." Catholic News Service 's Catholic prison chaplains meet, demand penal reforms LUXMOORE alarming disregard for prison- tion very difficult and frequent- for Justice and Peace, criticized and responsible authorities to era' civil rights through police arrests and other preventive actions," the chaplains said in a Sept. 13 concluding statement. The Ninth World Congress of Catholic Prison Chaplains, held in the Polish capital, was attended by 140 priests and lay chaplains from 46 countries in Europe, the Americas and the Third World. The church representatives said "international standards" for the treatment of prisoners were still being ignored in many parts of the world. They added that many inmates had remained in prison for years awaiting trial, and they were denied food and ' housed with carriers of the HIV virus and other diseases. "Prisons generally have a neg- ative effect and dehumanize... They often become academies of crime, especially for young pris- oners, making true re-socializa- WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- prison chaplains from the world have demand- ng penal reforms, the abolition of the e.nalty. international congress arsaw, the chaplains called on all bishops, conferences to Upgrade their pastoral work arnng prison inmates and the Vatican to clarify on capital pun- "We SUpport all efforts aimed tt::: death penalty's total abe- derek' and we particularly con- c^.--- ." .ne practices of many uuntrzes that still retain this barbaric Way of dealing with people "We observe with anxiety the prevalence of torture, violence and other forms of toward prisoners, brutality and the Geor9e Helfrich Falmn ily and Business surance Needs Home Auto Fire Product Liability Contractors Commercial Auto OfficeStores Workers Comp INSURANCE AGENCY 464-5993 ly denying proper protection to society. We urge a more thought- ful use of alternative forms of justice, stressing reconciliation and improvement wherever peg- sible," the chaplains' statement said. In a message to the congress Pope John Paul .II said the theme, "Chaplain, Prisoner, the Cross," summed up the church's concern for those deprived of freedom: He added that the principle of love of neighbor should encour- age all Christians to "work to unveil the image of the Creator in the hearts of prisoners." A chaplain from Argentina, Father Andreas Koselek, said two-thirds of his country's 40,000 prison inmates were under age 30, adding that grow- ing problems of overcrowding had been matched by frequent riots in which prisoners had been killed. Father Diarmuid Martin, sec- retary of the Pontifical Council I politicians who had attempted to "gain votes during election campaigns" by promising harsh- er penalties. In their statement, the chap- lains urged all governments to ensure that the human rights of inmates were protcted by adopting the "Minimum Rules" and other guidelines for control and prevention, recommended by the United Nations. They added that they wel- comed all initiatives aimed at "informing and warning society about the situation of prisoners" and had asked the Vatican to show its "special concern" for prisoners by issuing a document clarifying forms of pastoral care. "We also call on all bishops' conferences to raise pastoral work in prisons to-a priority level among local churches, and to nominate sufficient chaplains, nuns and trained laypeople for this apostolic work," the state- ment continued. "We call on all governments Stewardship by the Book The first son in Sunday's Gospel said he would do his father's bidding, but did not. The second son balked at first, but then repented and did as he was asked. What service is God calling me to do? Which son am I more like? II I consider the possibility of grant- ing prisoners a special, broad amnesty for the year 2000 as a sign of hope and grace for the new millennium," it said. The chaplains said they would be filing for U.N. observ- er and consultative status for the International Association of Catholic Prison Chaplains, set up in 1974 to support penal reform and organize chaplaincy networks. In a speech to the congress, Polish Justice Minister Leszek Kubicki praised the role played by the Catholic Church in post- communist prison reforms. He added that Poland's 232 Catholic chaplains, of whom 20 are full-time appointments, had proved an increasingly impor- tant elemenC in re-socialization policies since the church gained unrestricted access to prisons in 1989. In an address to the congress, Cardinal Jozef Glemp of War- saw said imprisonment should "contribute to a change in behavior" rather than merely take revenge for evils commit- ted.  No executions have been car- tied out in Poland since the late 1980s under a death penalty moratorium, a!hough opinion surveys have -aggested wide- spread support for their reinsti- tution to combat the worsening violent crime rate,