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NSCIA Urges Supreme Court to Ban Doctor-Assisted Suicide

Washington, DC -- March 4, 1997 -- Americans do not have a constitutional right to doctor-assisted suicide, the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, Inc. told the United States Supreme Court last month in an amicus or "friend-of-the-court" brief which it filed with the nation's high court. The NSCIA urged the Supreme Court to reinstate a Washington state law which banned doctors from prescribing life-ending drugs for terminally ill but mentally competent people who no longer wish to live. The Ninth Court of Appeals in San Francisco earlier this year had struck down this law, but the Supreme Court agreed to hear the state's appeal in January 1997 and will issue a ruling by next July in the case.

In this brief, the NSCIA said that it and other disability organizations are committed to improving their clients' quality of life, not helping secure the "benefit" of a right-to-die. The NSCIA criticized the lower court's priorities as being misplaced. The Washington, D.C.-based organization wrote: "If an appreciable segment of the population is not being properly cared for, such that some of its members request assistance at suicide, the more compassionate solution is not to confer a constitutional right to permit such conduct (and thus eliminate the problem along with the patient), but rather to redouble the efforts to health care professionals to better respond to the needs of patients under their care...[and] to treat pain and other discomfort more aggressively..."

NSCIA President Mark X. Odum said, "Those who are suffering should be given care and support, not encouraged to commit suicide. A community that encourages suicides ceases to be a community." In its brief, the NSCIA cited the most currently available statistical data regarding the incidence of traumatic spinal cord injury complied by researchers with the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center at the University of Alabama," as reported in NSCIA's FactSheet 2. The NSCIA argued that the recognition of a constitutional "right-to-die" would undermine both the mission of the NSCIA and ultimately the value society places on the lives of all its members. Founded in 1948, the NSCIA is the largest civilian organization in the United States dedicated to improving the quality of life of persons disabled by spinal cord injury. It maintains over 30 local chapters and support groups, a national toll-free information referral hot-line, and a 60,000 item resource center with information about spinal cord injury.

The amicus brief was prepared by Leonard Zandrow, an attorney and director of the NSCIA and a senior partner with the law firm of Brister & Zandrow, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.


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