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ASHINGTON — Two years before he became a circuit court judge, Neil Gorsuch finished a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Oxford in England. A byproduct of that pursuit, which began 13 years after he graduated from law school, was a book: “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.”

When he wrote it, he likely never imagined he’d be before the Senate, asked to defend his views as lawmakers considered his nomination to the Supreme Court.

This week, though, Gorsuch was asked to do just that when Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked the judge to account for his earlier statements that there is never a justification to intentionally end someone’s life.

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“I, in my life, have seen people die horrible deaths,” Feinstein told Gorsuch. “Family. Of cancer. When there was no hope. My father, begging me, ‘Stop this, Dianne. I’m dying.’”

“I’ll talk to you about what I wrote in the book,” the judge responded. “That’s fair.”

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Gorsuch told Feinstein that he understood her point of view, but held firm in his opposition to medical procedures that intentionally lead to death.

“My heart goes out to you,” he replied. “I’ve been there with my dad — and others. And at some point, you want to be left alone. Enough with the poking and the prodding. I want to go home and die in my own bed in the arms of my family.”

Gorsuch said he agreed with the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health, which held that competent patients had the right to refuse lifesaving or life-prolonging medical treatment. He characterized the decision as the recognition of a common-law right to effectively “be free from assault and battery.”

Feinstein then asked Gorsuch whether he agreed with California’s End of Life Option Act, which provides patients with less than six months to live the option of requesting drugs for the purpose of ending their life.

As with many of the day’s issues, Gorsuch steered clear of taking a hard stance on the California law specifically.

Feinstein was an ardent supporter of the act as the California Legislature debated it in 2015. Her father, a surgeon, died in 1975 and had no legal means of pursuing a physician-assisted death in his final months.

“Anything necessary to alleviate pain would be appropriate and acceptable, even if it caused death,” Gorsuch told Feinstein, recalling his own father’s death. “Not intentionally, but knowingly. I drew a line between intent and knowingly. And I’ve been there. I’ve been there.”

Coons, who on Tuesday also pressed Gorsuch on the topic, called that distinction “an intriguing line” but declined to elaborate other than to cast doubt on Gorsuch’s broader stance.

“I respect that the book he wrote that I was questioning [him] about, he wrote as a personal opinion piece,” Coons, a graduate of Yale’s law and divinity schools, told STAT. “But I’m left with some serious questions about how it translates into his judicial philosophy.”

On Wednesday, Feinstein nodded and said “thank you” in an appreciative way after Gorsuch explained his point of view. The senator ceded the remainder of her allotted time to her colleagues.

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  • There are some errors in prior notes. I just received the very skimpy books on John and not James Carroll. They report that John Carroll was made in 1784, and through the Constitutional Convention the Apostolic delegate or the ecclesiastical superior or the missions to the United States. Since Catholic churches did not exist in America, the priests were called missionaries. John Carroll may have built one of the first churches in America at his home. In 1789 he became the first bishop of America as the Bishop of Baltimore. When 4 total cities had bishops, John Carroll became Archbishop of Baltimore. James Carroll was a columnist for major newspapers in the United States who may just have died leaving his name on my mind.

  • Some quick comments to supplement an earlier contribution. This does tie further Hippocrates to modern medicine and to Catholic and Constitutional tradition.

    Hippocrates believed in food as ones medicine. Does the Mediterranean diet seem today’s medicine? Hippocrates talked of digestion. Today it is the microbiome. Another Hippocratic doctor is involved in the importance of Western Civilization. He is St. Luke who wrote canonical works in the New Testament. Because of the ability to handle epidemics, in contrast to the Temple Doctors, Christianity was finally accepted into the plethora of Roman gods. The Temple doctors were the Hospitalists of their time. Community doctors were basically Hippocratic doctors. The ethics of surgeons or those who use the knife and the Hospitalists do not appear to follow the Hippocratic tradition. The problem of the patient’s living will and directions appears as a problem within the hospital setting.

    I think the Catholic Church accepted Hippocratic ethics such as the confidentiality between doctor and patient and in turn priest and penitent.

    An interesting tie between the Catholic Church and the American Constitution is that George Mason both before, after and during the Constititutional Convention met with the Bishop of Baltimore, his friend. who lived 20 miles away at Rock Creek. The Bishop, James Carroll, was friends with Benjamin Franklin from 1775 on and the same with George Washington. The Bishop attended George Washington’s death bed, as a friend. The Bishop’s brother, Daniel, was at the Constitutional Convention, as a delegate from Maryland. The Catholic Encyclopedia attributes parts of the Constitution to Bishop Carroll. The Bill of Rights can be included as it reflects Carroll’s testimony to his new government. The Carroll brothers later donated Maryland lands to the District of Columbia. One other member of Carroll’s Virginia friends was Light-horse Harry Lee. He was the recipient of the Wikipedia document known as so proudly we hail, written by George Washington. Lee was a neighbor also and was considered the finest officer, who was not a general during the revolution. Henry Lee III was also the father of General Robert E. Lee. Washington, after the Revolution, nominated Lee to be the first major general of the army with each proposed army call up. Lee was to give the eulogy in Congress for Washington.

    Leonard Friedman, MD

  • Some quick comments to supplement an earlier contribution.

    Hippocrates believed in food as ones medicine. Does the Mediterranean diet seem today’s medicine? Hippocrates talked of digestion. Today it is the microbiome. Another Hippocratic doctor is involved in the importance of Western Civilization. He is St. Luke who wrote canonical works in the New Testament. Because of the ability to handle epidemics, in contrast to the Temple Doctors, Christianity was finally accepted into the plethora of Roman gods. The Temple doctors were the Hospitalists of their time. Community doctors were basically Hippocratic doctors. The ethics of surgeons or those who use the knife and the Hospitalists do not appear to follow the Hippocratic tradition. The problem of the patient’s living will and directions appears as a problem within the hospital setting.

    I think the Catholic Church accepted Hippocratic ethics such as the confidentiality between doctor and patient and in turn priest and penitent.

    An interesting tie between the Catholic Church and the American Constitution is that George Mason both before, after and during the Constititutional Convention met with the Bishop of Baltimore, his friend. who lived 20 miles away at Rock Creek. The Bishop, James Carroll, was friends with Benjamin Franklin from 1775 on and the same with George Washington. The Bishop attended George Washington’s death bed, as a friend. The Bishop’s brother, Daniel, was at the Constitutional Convention, as a delegate from Maryland. The Catholic Encyclopedia attributes parts of the Constitution to Bishop Carroll. The Bill of Rights can be included as it reflects Carroll’s testimony to his new government. The Carroll brothers later donated Maryland lands to the District of Columbia. One other member of Carroll’s Virginia friends was Light-horse Harry Lee. He was the recipient of the Wikipedia document known as so proudly we hail, written by George Washington. Lee was a neighbor also and was considered the finest officer, who was not a general during the revolution. Henry Lee III was also the father of General Robert E. Lee. Washington, after the Revolution, nominated Lee to be the first major general of the army with each proposed army call up. Lee was to give the eulogy in Congress for Washington.

    Leonard Friedman, MD

  • The Hippocratic Oath, only about 2500 years old, as a covenant states: I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.

    Judge Gorsuch also should note that a Hippocratic doctor, John Locke, who in the Two Treatises on Government, spoke of a right to health in his first 3 editions of the book. The initial quote is “life, liberty, health and goods.” We reinterpreted this to life, liberty and property. In Merry England one leases land unlike the United States where one owns land. One may improve leased property, but not own the real property product perpetually. The right to health and not health care is not a right to die, agreeing with Judge Gorsuch.

    If Germany in 1932 had a Bill of Rights, would Hitler have gotten to the Reichstat? If England had a written Constitution would they have treated Brexit the same way with a popular vote?

    As an intriguing thought can Original Intent be improved by recognizing that our Constitution and Bill of Rights was written by one man, George Mason. If so this would solve textual interpretation. Mason probably wrote the Ordinances of the Northwest Territories 1785 which dealt with land use and ownership as well as he was the national expert on land use. Mason probably wrote the Ordinances of the Northwest Territories in 1787 which included his future contributions to the Constitutional Convention. He is a next door neighbor to George Washington and with Washington did the Fairfax Resolves, the intellectual precursor to the rational for radicals for revolution. According to James Madison’s notes on the Constituional Convention George Mason, next to Madison, said more than anyone else at the Convention except Madison, while George Washington said nothing. Madison and Jefferson called Mason, a wise man, a statesman and filled with wisdom. I shouldn’t have to say more.

    Leonard Friedman, MD Upstate Medical University ’60, Post Graduate Work in Cambridge Area.

    • I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.

      Interesting to quote it and remember that medicine even as far back as a couple hundred years ago was in its infancy. Would Hippocrates have been able to prescribe chemotherapy under his own rules?

  • What is judge Gorsuch’s position regarding family members exercising their “living will” rights to determine when to pull the plug for a loved one
    whose prognosis is hopeless?

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