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Lawyers told: Serve the powerless

Jim Towey warns about 'right to die' movement at Broward's annual Red Mass

Broward judges sit in the front pews at St. Anthony during the 25th annual Red Mass June 4.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Broward judges sit in the front pews at St. Anthony during the 25th annual Red Mass June 4.

St.Thomas More Society President Cynthia Imperato presents the Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy award to Judge William Dimitrouleas.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

St.Thomas More Society President Cynthia Imperato presents the Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy award to Judge William Dimitrouleas.

FORT LAUDERDALE | Lawyers have a duty to protect the rights of the powerless, especially those in the final stages of life.

“There are legions of people who need you,” said James Towey, president of Ave Maria University. “They are thirsting for an advocate, a companion, for someone to affirm and safeguard their right to age with dignity.”

Towey was the guest speaker at the reception that followed the 25th anniversary Red Mass of the St. Thomas More Society of South Florida. The Mass was celebrated June 4 at St. Anthony Church by Archbishop Thomas Wenski.

James Towey, president of Ave Maria University, delivers keynote speech at the reception that followed the Broward Red Mass.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

James Towey, president of Ave Maria University, delivers keynote speech at the reception that followed the Broward Red Mass.

Towey served as director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, or “faith czar,” and as assistant to President George W. Bush from 2002 to 2006. In 1996, he founded Aging with Dignity, a national non-profit organization to help individuals and their families plan for and receive appropriate care during times of serious illness. He created the document, Five Wishes, the most widely used advance directive in America, with more than 18 million copies in circulation.

“Mother Teresa spent her life defending human dignity,” said Towey, who also served as U.S. legal counsel to Mother Teresa for 12 years, from 1985 until her death in 1997. “The threats which modern medicine and America’s health care system pose to dignity are fear, distrust, and pain, both physical and spiritual.”

Those in the final stages of life face fear the unknown and uncertainty, he said. People are not sure of their rights and who will pay for their health care. A person who is sick is desperate to know whether the caregiver is on their side or is a tool of the provider. And people don’t want to be in agony, unable to do anything for themselves.

Towey said that he worries about the so-called right to die, because it will be a right that the poor will get.

“I worry that it will become the duty to die,” he said. “It is always easier to end life than to care for it. This issue will define the next four decades. If lawyers aren’t in the vanguard of this debate, protecting the rights of those who are powerless, who will be?”

More than anything people want to have their dignity respected, he said. They don’t want to be some inanimate object on a health care conveyor belt.

Albert Massey, incoming president of the St. Thomas More Society of South Florida, presents a plaque to outgoing president Cynthia Imperato.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Albert Massey, incoming president of the St. Thomas More Society of South Florida, presents a plaque to outgoing president Cynthia Imperato.

Previous speakers at the reception have included U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, Cardinals Adam Maida, Theodore McCarrick and Avery Dulles, U.S. Senator George LeMieux, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, and University of Notre Dame President Father Edward Malloy.

This year, the recipient of the society’s Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy Award was Judge William Dimitrouleas, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The award is named for Miami’s second archbishop, who helped establish the St. Thomas More Society of South Florida.

A good lawyer will honor his oath and serve his client diligently, but a great lawyer will not be afraid to challenge injustice when he finds it and will not refuse to help those most vulnerable, said Archbishop Thomas Wenski in his homily. Everyone needs to recognize the debt of gratitude owed to those in the legal profession who “give back” through hours of pro bono service.

“Equal justice is just a slogan unless the justice system is accessible to all,” the archbishop said. “I would urge you to double your efforts to assist the hidden, underserved populations of the homeless, the working poor, the immigrant family, the vulnerable child or battered woman, through pro-bono representation.”

The Red Mass is a tradition dating back to the 13th century, where it officially opened the term of the court for European countries. Celebrants, government officials, lawyers and judges would process into the church wearing red garments.

St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, was a 15th-16th century counselor to King Henry VIII. He refused to acknowledge King Henry’s split with the Roman Catholic Church and was accused of treason and beheaded. His last words were, “The king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

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