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Kevorkian’s conviction unlikely to deter movement, Mitchell says

PONTIAC, Mich. (BP)–A jury finally found Jack Kevorkian guilty, but a Southern Baptist bioethics specialist predicts the “pro-euthanasia and assisted-suicide forces will now redouble their efforts.”
A Michigan jury found Kevorkian guilty of second-degree murder for injecting lethal drugs into a terminally ill man. According to sentencing guidelines, Kevorkian faces a minimum sentence of 10 to 25 years in prison, and he also could be sentenced up to seven years imprisonment for illegal delivery of a controlled substance, according to news reports.
The guilty verdict came as a result of the death of Thomas Youk, 52, of Waterford, Mich. A home video of Kevorkian’s fatal injection of Youk, who had Lou Gehrig’s disease, in September was telecast in November on the CBS news program “60 Minutes.”
On the program, Kevorkian said he killed Youk in a case of euthanasia, not assisted suicide, according to The New York Times. Kevorkian, who had escaped a guilty verdict in four previous trials, says he has helped 130 people die during the last decade through the use of a “suicide machine,” which enables the one who has requested to die to administer the lethal drugs.
In the process, the former pathologist became the often-unwelcome poster boy for a movement that has grown in influence and acceptance in recent years.
While the verdict may stop Kevorkian from killing again, it is unlikely to deter proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide, said Ben Mitchell, consultant on biomedical and life issues for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“Even though many of them were uncomfortable associating with Kevorkian, they still know that their fortunes somewhat stand or fall on what happens to him,” Mitchell said. “I believe they will just use less radical-sounding rhetoric to legalize assisted death.
“Since one state [Oregon] in our nation is already practicing assisted suicide legally, and other states are trying to pass such legislation, we must not grow complacent. There is no time to spare. Human lives are at stake,” said Mitchell, who is assistant professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Assisted suicide has been legal in Oregon since the fall of 1997. Oregon voters first approved a law legalizing assisted suicide in a 1994 initiative, but legal challenges blocked its enforcement for three years. The voters reaffirmed the law by a wider margin in 1997. A report released in February showed 15 people took their lives with medication during Oregon’s first full year of the practice.
That announcement followed by only a day the report of a study alleging widespread abuse of euthanasia and assisted suicide in The Netherlands. A study of recent surveys suggests a “significant incidence of euthanasia without request and also the significant incidence of nonreporting of euthanasia by Dutch doctors,” said John Keown of the University of Cambridge in England in an interview with Reuters Health
Burke Balch of the National Right to Life Committee said in a written statement the March 26 conviction of Kevorkian “should come as a relief to people with disabilities. The danger is great that any so-called ‘right to die’ would quickly become a ‘duty’ to die.”
Kevorkian had been tried four times for violating laws against assisted suicide, but those trials ended in either acquittal or a mistrial. Prosecutors dropped a charge of violation of a new assisted-suicide law enacted last year in Michigan. They focused on seeking a conviction for first-degree murder in Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Mich. Such a verdict would have mandated life in prison, according to news reports.
The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed assisted suicide to be handled as a state issue. In 1997, the high court ruled unanimously states could prohibit assisted suicide, but its action did not prevent states from legalizing the practice.
Pro-life organizations, whose main focus has been opposing abortion, also have been united in opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide. At its 1996 meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution condemning assisted suicide.