Dying man hopes Supreme Court supports assisted suicide
Jan. 09, 1997
LINCOLN, R.I. (AP) _ Noel Earley, bedridden and barely able to talk from the Lou Gehrig's disease that is slowly destroying him, used a gnarled fist to tap out a message to the U.S. Supreme Court.
``We have a right to end the disease that is assaulting our independence and our dignity in the absence of medical intervention,'' he said, pointing to letters on a piece of cardboard.
Earley's statement came on the day the high court heard arguments on whether states can prohibit doctors from giving life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients who no longer want to live.
However, based on comments by a majority of the justices at Wednesday's hearing, the court seems unlikely to strike down the state laws.
Rhode Island has an assisted suicide ban, and Earley said it is forcing him to live when death would be a blessing.
The 48-year-old drew worldwide attention last year when he announced he would kill himself to protest the state law. His condition has worsened since then. He cannot swallow and no longer has the strength to inject himself with a lethal mix of drugs, as he said he would.
Living at home, he gets food and water through a tube in his stomach.
While suicide advocates say Earley's case proves the cruelty of assisted suicide bans, others say it illustrates why the laws are needed.
Dr. Edward Martin, who oversees Earley's care, said he does not believe the man wants to die.
``People often change their mind,'' Martin said. ``They may continue treatment while continuing to express reservations.''
And Earley's nursing assistant said he often asks her what he should do.
``I tell him, Noel, I can't say either way,'' Rita Senna said. ``It would put me in a difficult position.''
In the end, whether he decides to kill himself or not, Earley believes the decision is his alone.
``The Supreme Court must reflect the will of the people and 60 percent of the American public is on my side,'' Earley stated. ``There must come a better interpretation of the Constitution in regard to self rights.''