When articles began to pop up about Neil Gorsuch's mother, the late Anne Gorsuch Burford, I thought "that's interesting." Stories about political families are always interesting. Anne Gorsuch Burford's career at the EPA was interesting as was her her 1986 take-no-prisoners book on her experiences in D.C. I am not, however, among the group that thinks that the most telling thing about Neil Gorsuch's parentage is that Anne Gorsuch Burford was an extremely controversial EPA head.
Actually, the most interesting thing I wonder about Neil Gorsuch's experiences as his mother's son (one of two sons among three siblings) is whether the experience of his mother's death from cancer in 2004 helps to explain some differences between the chapters in his 2009 book The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia that appear to have been written specifically for the volume and those that were essentially reprints of earlier articles on these topics.
I know nothing about Ann Gorsuch Burford's death but that she died too young, at the age of 62, and that she died from cancer. Although there are those who say that "dying of cancer is the best death, " there is another school of thought that notes many cancer patients die in "excruciating pain and fear." At any rate, we sequester the dying so successfully in our society that it may not be until a very close friend or family member dies from cancer that we knowingly look a cancer death in the face.
Ann Gorsuch Burford's obituary reports she died in Aurora, Colorado while her son Neil Gorsuch resided in Vienna, Virginia. I do not know if Neil Gorsuch was able to participate in caring for his mother at the end of her life when he himself was only 37 years old. What I do know is that the experience of hands on caregiving and on-the-spot decision making for someone leaving this world in the face of great physical and/or psychic pain can be life transforming. Interestingly, we see this transformative experience studied more in the shifts in perspective some hospice and palliative care providers make over a career of caring for the dying than in the re-working and re-thinking of beliefs related to death and dying in the lives of lay people or even bio-ethicists who pass through this experience.
I am interested in whether and how lay people and family caregivers who actively care for those approaching an untimely and painful death also have to square up their lived experience with their theoretical understanding on all sorts of issues, including assisted suicide or medically assisted death. Some of those lay people are bio-ethicists, which I find even more interesting.
How an earlier in life experience with death and dying can draw a scholar or a practitioner first close and then even closer to work in the area of death and dying might be seen as a kind of history of the present. From this perspective, we are all still re-considering, in our lives and in our work, our earlier experiences with death and dying each time we confront the mortality of those close to us.
The work of philosopher John Finnis appears to have been a powerful influence on our latest Supreme Court nominee. It might be argued that John Finnis is the intellectual parent to this son. But I still have to wonder if Neil Gorsuch personally walked those last hands-on miles with his mother.
X posted at Prawfsblawg