News Articles

Michigan OKs suicide ban; Kevorkian pledges defiance

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Michigan legislature handed prosecutors a new weapon in their battle against assisted suicide’s leading practitioner, Jack Kevorkian, on the final day of the session.
The state House of Representatives approved a ban on assisted suicide with a two-thirds majority, meaning the new law will become effective Sept. 1. Michigan Gov. John Engler has promised to sign the legislation.
The new assisted-suicide ban defines criminal assistance as providing the means for a person to commit suicide, participating in the act or helping plan the death. It does not apply to withholding or withdrawing medical treatment. The bill calls for maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The Michigan legislature’s action is noteworthy because Kevorkian has made a habit of performing and promoting assisted suicide in the state the last seven years. Kevorkian has said he has helped more than 100 people end their lives. He was present for the recent removal for transplant of the kidneys of a man he helped commit suicide.
The legislation is “a straightforward, clear, unambiguous, black-letter law under which someone like Jack Kevorkian can be arrested and charged and prosecuted,” said Sen. William Van Regenmorter, chief sponsor of the bill. Describing Kevorkian’s activities as “ever more bizarre,” Van Regenmorter called the retired pathologist “an evil manipulator who enjoys thumbing his nose at convention.”
Kevorkian remained defiant after the legislature’s action. “Tell them we will go to trial immediately after that law goes into effect. The Michigan legislature is a tool of the Inquisition. They would burn us at the stake if it wasn’t for a jury,” Kevorkian told the Oakland Press of Pontiac, Mich., according to an Associated Press report.
“Kevorkian has demonstrated that he’s not a crusader; he’s a homicidal maniac,” said Ben Mitchell, an ethics professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “He has a death fetish. He must be stopped before others die with his assistance.
“Kevorkian has been committing vigilante violence while the government, at least to this point, has been impotent to stop him. We applaud Michigan lawmakers for finally doing something to stop the madness.”
The new legislation, approved July 2, is intended as an improvement over a law that expired in 1994. Two juries acquitted Kevorkian under the previous law, while a third refused to convict him under common law. A fourth case ended in a mistrial.
Christians and others who believe in the sanctity of human life also “must work diligently to provide adequate pain management and palliative care for those who are dying,” said Mitchell, also a consultant on biomedical and life issues for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Suffering patients must be cared for better, but there’s a gargantuan difference between compassionate care and killing patients.”
Both houses of the legislature had passed versions of an assisted-suicide ban earlier, but the House failed to achieve a two-thirds majority. Without such a margin, the bill would not have taken effect for a year.
The Michigan vote followed by three weeks U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno’s decision lifting the federal threat to Oregon physicians who prescribe drugs to assist in suicides. Reno ruled the Controlled Substances Act does not authorize the federal government to take action against doctors who prescribe medication for terminally ill people who desire to take their lives under Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act. In doing so, she overruled the head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Pro-life organizations and some members of Congress criticized Reno’s decision.
Oregon voters first approved the legalization of assisted suicide in a 1994 initiative, but legal challenges blocked its enforcement for three years. Voters reaffirmed the law by a wider margin in 1997. The first confirmed death by assisted suicide came in late March of this year.
At its 1996 meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution condemning assisted suicide.

Ken Walker contributed to this article.