Letters to Supreme Knight Dechant Re Help With Amicus Brief (July 1993)

Dianne N. Irving
Copyright July 24, 1993
Reproduced with Permission

Virgil C. Dechant
Supreme Knight
Knights of Columbus
Supreme Office
1 Columbus Plaza
New Hampshire, CN 06507-0901

Dear Supreme Knight Dechant:

This letter of request is being delivered to you through the extraordinarily kind offer of Knight Michael Burchick, P.S.N., of the Archbishop Michael J. Curley Assembly, Knights of Columbus. Knight Burchick was in attendance at a recent meeting of the Catholic Association of Scientists and Engineers (CASE), of which I am a member. At that meeting I made a plea for any financial help possible towards some expenses incurred by myself and my lawyer, amounting to close to $6,000. These expenses were incurred in the process of writing and submitting an amicus curiae brief at the request of the lawyer, Mr. Harold Cassidy, who has recently filed a New Jersey abortion case before the Supreme Court. Mr. Cassidy filed his Petition for Certiorari with the Supreme Court on June 7, 1993. Upon inquiring if the Knights of Columbus might consider helping us, Knight Burchick graciously agreed to relay our request to you, for which we are eternally grateful.

Mr. Cassidy filed his brief on behalf of "J.M.", the father, who tried to prevent his wife "V.C." from having an abortion. The case is particularly focused on two points. (1) Roe v. Wade stated that at that time there was no scientific or medical consensus as to when the life of a human being begins - but they left the door open for challenge should such a consensus develop. Mr. Cassidy has amassed an enormous national and international scientific and medical consensus which documents without any question that the life of every human being normally begins at fertilization - and is therefore protected by the U.S. and N.J. Constitutions. (2) Given this unquestionable objective fact, "J.M.", the father, has the constitutional right to protect these rights of his preborn child - including his or her inalienable right to life. This case is extraordinarily important - especially having gone this far in the court system, and being argued from such objective scientific grounds.

Mr. Cassidy requested me to write one of the four amicus curiae briefs in support of his Petition, because even though it is scientifically irrefutable that the life of every human being normally begins at fertilization, some will argue that there is a distinction or a difference between a human being and a human person, and that "personhood" does not begin until some later stage(s) during embryological development. Only if a human person is present, they argue, are constitutional rights and protections guaranteed.

The reason for Mr. Cassidy's request is the following. I happen to have a double background in both science and in philosophy/bioethics. My doctoral dissertation was precisely on this issue: Philosophical and Scientific Analysis of the Nature of the Early Human Embryo. There I demonstrated both scientifically and philosophically that "personhood" begins at fertilization, when the human being normally begins. That is, there is no real valid distinction between a human being and a human person, counter quite a massive body of literature which has amassed in recent years on the issue of "personhood". In virtually every one of the arguments for "delayed personhood", the science being used to support their arguments is text-book incorrect, and the philosophy used is historically inaccurate or easily refutable. I have enclosed a copy of the dissertation for your information, as well as several shorter papers recently published which were drawn from the dissertation.

I agreed to write a "personhood" brief for Mr. Cassidy, with very short notice (about 5 weeks). I requested the University Faculty For Life (on whose Board I serve) if they could support the brief financially if I wrote it. They agreed, and helped me to identify an outstanding young Catholic lawyer, Daniel Gray, who would do the legal work. Together we worked constantly and carefully to prepare the brief, finally filing it with the Supreme Court on July 2, 1993. I have also enclosed a copy of the brief for your information.

Because we had such short notice, and because the case was so unique and powerfully objective, I decided to "grab the moment", so to speak, since I already had most of the material already prepared in my dissertation. If I had waited for everything to be covered financially, perhaps this brief would not have made it to the filing. That would have been unfortunate, because having just completed the doctorate on the issue of "personhood", I knew clearly that a number of counter briefs to this case would be filed, arguing precisely that "personhood" is "delayed" until some magic biological marker event after fertilization. I also knew their arguments were extremely flawed and refutable.

Now, having "grabbed the moment", and having filed the brief, we learn that the UFL can only give us $500+ towards the expenses. Meantime the bills are coming in. This is why we need some help from the Knights of Columbus, who we think would be interested in understanding the unusual objective nature of this abortion case, as well as helping in some way. And if the Court agrees to hear this case, we will even have to go further into personal debt to file the next brief.

At this point our expenses come to almost $6,000 (an accounting is also enclosed). We are not requesting any funds for our own work on the brief. Both Dan and I have willingly worked pro bono, because we believe so strongly in this case. The bills are only for typing and final printing costs (e.g., 40 copies of the brief go to the Court, 23 copies to the amici, etc.). These bills have to be paid now, and Dan and I have both delved into our own personal savings to meet them so far. Neither of us can honestly afford this at the moment. Dan is between legal jobs, and I only make $6,000/year teaching as a full time professor of philosophy at De Sales School of Theology (it is a "dedicated" salary). But we decided to go forward with this brief anyway, with faith and determination that God would find a way.

I realize the economy has made it especially difficult for everyone right now. But I pray that you and the Knights may find it possible to help us in any small way in our support of this very special abortion case. The killing fields are already littered with the bodies of virtually millions of the bodies of our young children - and expanding exponentially (especially now with the increased use of human embryos and human fetuses in experimental research). It has to stop. Please help us help.

God bless you in the very special and wonderful works that you do, and especially for listening to and considering our humble request. Our special thanks, too, to Knight Burchick for enabling this request to reach you.


Dianne Nutwell Irving, M.A., Ph.D.
Catholic Association for Scientists and Engineers
5108 Randall Lane
Bethesda, MD 20816

[Edited for format and clarity July 18, 2004]


Copyright July 24, 1993

Knight Michael Burchick, P.S.N.
Knight of Columbus
20 Woodlawn Way
Greenbelt, MD 20770

Dear Knight Burchick:

Enclosed please find the letter to the Supreme Knight, Virgil C. Dechant, requesting financial support for the amicus curiae brief. I have also enclosed a copy of my dissertation, several smaller papers based on it, a copy of the brief, and my resume. This may be too much material, so I leave it to your discretion as to whether it should all go to the Supreme Knight.

As I mentioned to you at the CASE meeting, I am rather embarrassed to seek help like this, but I unexpectedly find myself in this situation. I cannot thank you enough for the kindness you have shown and your spontaneous willingness to help us. Regardless if the Knights decide to come to our aid, your very caring spirit is certainly a bright spot for us, and we appreciate it very much indeed.

I will be in Omaha, Nebraska from July 24-30 for the Humanae Vitae conference; then in Rehobeth, Delaware from July 31-Aug. 7. I will give the phone number where I will be staying in Omaha to my husband. Please don't hesitate to call if you have any questions. You could even leave a message on my home phone machine. We will return home to Bethesda on Saturday, Aug. 7 [phone 301-229-4176].

Again, your son prepared and delivered an outstanding and moving presentation at the CASE meeting. He has obviously put considerable time, thought and effort into this issue. It must have been a very special moment for you. I only hope that my own son will surprise me that way some day!

Thank you again for your generosity and loving concern. We are forever in your debt. Best regards, and God bless -


Dianne N. Irving, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Philosophy/Bioethics
De Sales School of Theology
5108 Randall Lane
Bethesda, MD 20816

[Edited for format and clarity July 18, 2004]