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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

January 18, 2006

Roberts: a “Serious Catholic” dissent against euthanasia?

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 12:27 pm

As SCOTUSBlog noted yesterday, Gonzales v. Oregon was the first time

Chief Justice John Roberts has dissented to a Court decision. The Chief

joined the dissenting opinion of Justice Scalia, and did not write separately.

The case upheld an Oregon law that permits doctors to prescribe medica-

tions in certain assisted suicide situations. [See NYT, “Fraught Issue, but

Narrow Ruling in Oregon Suicide Case,” Jan. 18, 2006]


We can’t know what was on Justice Roberts’ mind, other than the issues

discussed by Justice Scalia. Nonetheless, it’s impossible not to wonder

whether the following 2004 statement by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,

who is now Pope Benedict XVI, played an important role:



The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin.
The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial
decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia,
states that there is a “grave and clear obligation to oppose them by
conscientious objection. […] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law,
such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never
licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propoganda campaign in favour of
such a law or vote for it’”. Christians have a “grave obligation
of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if
permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from
the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. […]
This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for
the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits
it or requires it.”

We have opined at this website that John Roberts appears to be a “serious

Catholic” who would feel a moral obligation to act on the above statement,

which is directed at Catholics in public life. [see our prior post here]



The Chief Justice joined the dissent of Justice Scalia (with concludes that the

term legitimate medical purpose . . . surely excludes the prescription of drugs

to produce death”), rather than Justice Thomas’ dissent (with its focus on the

inconsistency with the Raich v. Gonzales precedent, which struck down

California’s medical marijuana laws). That at least suggests that John Roberts

had moral issues on his mind more than statutory construction and stare

decisis. (Those same priorities might also be on Steve Bainbridge’s mind,

as well as the gang at Mirror of Justice.)

update (Jan. 19, 2006): Robert Tsai offers his take on the Roberts’

DIssentat Concurring Opinions (Jan. 18, 2006), including that

“He, like Scalia, is willing to read Congress’ enumerated

powers broadly (and the core of state’s rights narrowly in

advance of national interests)–even when the strongest

interest appears to be in cultivating moral standards. This

is bad news forproponents of interstitial federalism.” [“Hail

to the (New) Chief: Death With Dignity — Part III”]

Reid Report suggests we “Recall that during his hearings, Roberts

demurred on the ‘right to die’ issue.” Also, TalkLeft gathers editorial

responses from the press (“Pro-Life Groups to Urge ‘John Ashcroft,

MD Law’,” Jan. 18, 2006). And, Prof. Bainbridge frets that “Scalia

Scuttles Federalism” — and it “no longer seems possible, however,

to believe that he is developing a coherent conservative jurisprudence.”

That suggests that (a) Steve may not be particularly in sync with

Scalia’s “public morality” position, and (b) Steve has the untenable

notion that there can be a monolithic “conservative jurisprudence”

and that it will hold all the anwers to every judicial decision.


cold wind lifts one corner

of the pall


cathedral garden

cardinals in the birdbath

scatter drops of light

into the night 
we talk of human cloning

witnessing his will

the frost-hatched


Peggy Lyles from To Hear the Rain (Brooks Books, 2002)

Full moon by her bed

my daughter asks

the meaning of death

The stone church quiet

after the funeral bell —

deepening snowfall

autumn evening–

yellow leaves cover

the plot reserved for m

Rebecca Lilly Shadwell Hills (Birch Brook Press, 2002)

“Autumn evening” — A New Resonance 2; Modern Haiku XXX:2

window neg

does Overlawyered know about Vonnegut?

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 12:21 am

Walter Olson has been all over the Tobacco Lawsuit Industry at his website for years.  So, I was surprised today —

while listening to Kurt Vonnegut‘s latest book, A Man Without a Country 

(Seven Stories Press, Sept. 2005) — to hear a new legal theory for suing

big tobacco that has not been exposed yet at Overlawyered.  Vonnegut

explains (at pp 3940):



“I’m going to tell you some news.  …  Here?s the news: I am

going to sue the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company,

manufacturers of  cigarettes, for a billion bucks!  Starting when

I was only twelve years old, I have never chain-smoked anything

but unfiltered Pall Malls. And for many years now, right on the

package, Brown and Williamson have promised to kill me.  But

I am now eighty-two. Thanks a lot, you dirty rats. The last thing

I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people

on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon.”

[update: An anonymously curious reader wonders whether Kurt

borrowed the “three most powerful men” line from Chris Rock,

or vice versa.]

Of course, after today’s Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Oregon,

B&W might force Vonnegut to mitigate damages, by moving to Oregon

and finding a willing doctor.   [And see Vonnegut’s novel from 2001,

God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian.] Still, I count on Walter to keep me up

to date on issues like this, so I’m a little disappointed.

tiny check  Speaking of disappointment and broken promises, this

thin little volume (declared by its publisher to be “The first

major book to appear from Kurt Vonnegut in nearly a decade.”)

did not have enough new or unique wit or wisdom to be worth

my 2.5 hours of listening time, and does not deserve to be called

a “major book,” by an author who has indeed written many such

books.   The best one-liners could have filled a couple pages.  My

main theory of liability, however, would not be against the publisher

for over-touting, but would be against Kurt Vonnegut for breaking his

promise to write no more.”   Hey, you never know.


afterthought (10 AM):  Maybe I’m being a little too tough on old Kurt.

Part of my problem with the book is that he says so many things

that are simply common sense to me — opinions I’ve held for a long

time.  Two good examples:

(1) “There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t

know what can be done to fix it.  This is  Only nut cases want

to be president. This was true even in high school. Only clearly

disturbed people ran for class president.”  (at 101 to 102)




(2) ” . . . vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes.
But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten

Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course

that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand

that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted

anywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed

are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break.” (at 98)

[see our treatment of the Sermon on the Mount here, here, there,

and here]




tiny check  On the other hand, I must admit that I smiled broadly at

Vonnegut’s mention of Schenectady, my adopted hometown: 

“I got classified as a science fiction writer simply because I

wrote about Schenectady, New York. My first book, Player Piano 

[1952], was about Schenectady. There are huge factories in

Schenectady and nothing else. I and my associates were engineers,

physicists, chemists, and mathematicians. And when I wrote about

the General Electric Company and Schenectady, it seemed a

fantasy of the future to critics who had never seen the place.”

[emphasis added]

Of course, GE is no longer headquartered in Schenectady, and has about

5% of its peak number of employees stationed here.  I wonder what Kurt

would think about that.  Talk about nothing here.  Talk about futuristic.

Now that Walter has a heads-up on the “still living after all these years” cause of

action, I’m counting on him to keep us posted. 


news of his death

the cigarette smoke rises

straight up








goblins at the door

in the darkness behind them

a cigarette flares


       John Stevenson from Some of the Silence 









the slow wobble

of a smoke ring


     ed markowski 





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