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Jack Kevorkian Trials: 1994-99

Courts Grapple With The Issue

December 1993 saw Dr. Kevorkian returned to jail on his third charge of breaking the 15-month ban. He refused to post bond or consume anything but fruit juice, water, and vitamins. After ten days, unshaven, weak and gaunt, he was pushed into the courtroom in a wheelchair for a hearing. Three days later, Wayne County Chief Judge Richard C. Kaufman declared the controversial law unconstitutional. In barring all assisted suicide, he said, the Michigan legislature had passed a statute that was too broad to be consistent with rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The judge cited a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the right to refuse life-supporting medical treatment and found that "when quality of life is significantly impaired by a medical condition and the medical condition is unlikely to improve" the person has a "constitutional right" to commit suicide. Oakland County Prosecutor Thompson, holding the doctor in jail, said the ruling was not binding in his jurisdiction.

Then, later in December after nearly three weeks in jail, Dr. Kevorkian promised to stop helping suicides "until we get some resolution of this from the courts." A jury trial in the spring of 1994 found him not guilty of violating the ban on assisted suicide even though he admitted to helping a suicide in 1993. Next, the Michigan Court of Appeals reinstated the two murder charges from 1991. The doctor appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals found the 15-month temporary ban unconstitutional for technical reasons. Prosecutor Richard Thompson appealed.

Hours after the 15-month ban ended, in his first assisted suicide in more than a year but his twenty-first altogether, Dr. Kevorkian helped a Royal Oak, Michigan, woman commit suicide in her home. She had had both legs and one eye removed because of rheumatoid arthritis and advanced osteoporosis. Two weeks later, the Michigan House of Representatives, in a lame-duck session, rushed through a new bill to take effect April 1, 1995, outlawing assisted suicide. It then moved in an apparent contradiction, for a state-wide voter referendum in November 1996. The state's Senate passed a similar bill but did not call for a referendum. At the same time, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision and said the Legislature had acted within the constitution in banning doctor-assisted suicides. By this time, the 15-month ban had already expired.

The court also declared that, even without a law, helping a suicide "may be prosecuted as a common-law felony" with a five-year prison term. "This," said Dr. Kevorkian, "is a perfect, clear manifestation of the existence of the inquisition in this state, no different from the medieval one." Attorney Fieger, who had beaten every criminal charge ever brought against the doctor, said "I am ready to take on 21 murder trials, starting tomorrow. No jury will ever convict Dr. Kevorkian. They couldn't even convict him of assisted suicide."

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994Jack Kevorkian Trials: 1994-99 - The Public Debate Over Assisted Suicide Begins, Michigan Suspends Kevorkian's License, The Severely Iii Ask Kevorkian For Help