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Cruzan v. Director of Missouri Department of Health
Supreme Court of the United States (1989)

No. 88-1503

In The
Supreme Court of the United States
October Term, 1989

NANCY BETH CRUZAN, by her parents and co-guardians
et al.

On Writ of Certiorari to the Missouri Supreme Court



Agudath Israel of America is a national grassroots Orthodox Jewish movement with tens of thousands of members across the United States. It was founded in 1922 as the American arm of the world-wide Agudath Israel movement, for the purpose of uniting the American Orthodox Jewish community under its organizational banner. The movement is led, and its policies determined, by a group of prominent senior Orthodox rabbinical figures respected broadly as outstanding scholars of Jewish law and decisors of Jewish policy.

Informed by classical Jewish tradition which teaches that all human life is sacred, and possessed of the firm view that laws that undermine the sanctity of human life send a message that is profoundly dangerous for all of society, Agudath Israel of America speaks out frequently on a broad panoply of public policy issues that arise at the onset and conclusion of the human life cycle. In the Court's 1988-89 Term, for example, Agudath Israel of America submitted a brief as amicus curiae in the abortion rights case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (decision reported at 109 S.Ct. 3040 (1989)). More directly relevant to the issues involved in the instant case, Agudath Israel of America submitted an amicus curiae brief to the New York Court of Appeals in last year's "right to die" case of Matter of Westchester County Medical Center (decision reported at 72 N.Y. 2d 517, 531 N.E. 2d 607 (1988)); and has testified before various state legislative bodies on such issues as DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders, health care directives, and determination of death.

Agudath Israel of America's interest in this case is especially keen because it represents the first time the Court has had occasion to address some of the most fundamental questions concerning human life: its value to society, its intrinsic sanctity, its voluntary termination, its involuntary termination. It is a basic principle of Jewish law and ethics that "(m)an does not possess absolute title to his life or body." J.D. Bleich, The Quinlan Case: A Jewish Perspective, reprinted in Jewish Bioethics 266, 270 (Hebrew Publishing Co.1979). Agudath Israel of America believes that recognition of that teaching, as expressed in the general disapprobation of suicide and euthanasia, has served as one of the pillars of civilized societies throughout the generations.

Moreover, as representatives of a people whose numbers were decimated only half-a-century ago by a society that "progressed" from its "enlightened" practices of "mercy killing" to the mass slaughter of millions of human beings deemed physically or racially "inferior," Agudath Israel of America is particularly sensitive to the legal assignment of diminished levels of life protection based on diminished levels of life quality. We share the concerns expressed by Siegler & Weisbard, Against the Emerging Stream: Should Fluids and Nutritional Support be Discontinued? 145 Archives of Internal Medicine 130-31 (1985):

"We have deep concerns about accepting the practice of withholding fluids from patients, because it may bear the seeds of unacceptable social consequences. We have witnessed too much history to disregard how easily a society may disvalue the lives of the unproductive. The `angel of mercy' can become the fanatic, bringing the `comfort' of death to some who do not clearly want it, then to others who `would really be better off dead,' and finally, to classes of `undesirable persons,' which might include the terminally ill, the permanently unconscious, the severely senile, the pleasantly senile, the retarded, the incurably or chronically ill, and perhaps, the aged.... In the current environment it may well be convenient - and all too easy - to move from recognition of an individual's `right to die' (to us, an unfortunate phrasing in the first instance) to a climate enforcing a `duty to die."'

This case affords the Court a historic opportunity to offer constitutional guidance in an area of law and policy that has emerged as one of the most morally challenging in contemporary society. 'The choices before the Court are stark; the issues to be decided, profound; and the stakes, enormous. As detailed below, Agudath Israel of America believes that it would represent a significant and alarming departure from settled constitutional precedent -- and from fundamental values long-cherished by civilized societies -were the Court to conclude that the Fourteenth Amendment's liberty/privacy protections preclude the states from asserting their interest in the preservation and sanctity of human life in cases like this.

Through their respective counsel, the parties have consented to the appearance of Agudath Israel of America as amicus curiae.

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