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Medical Ethics Expert: Michigan May Become Assisted-Suicide Haven With PM-Suicide Machine, Bjt

June 7, 1990

DETROIT (AP) _ Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s suicide machine has confronted Michigan legal authorities and lawmakers with the possibility their state will become a haven for death-by-choice.

Kevorkian, a retired pathologist, said he did nothing illegal when Janet Adkins used his button-operated device to take her life Monday in his van 40 miles from Detroit.

Alexander Capron, professor of law and medicine at the University of Southern California and chairman of Congress’ biomedical ethics advisory committee, said Wednesday that Michigan may have no legal means to stop Kevorkian from helping someone else die.

″If the state decides that its present law doesn’t prohibit this, the Legislature will have to decide whether they want Michigan to be the place that people come to get Kevorkianed,″ said Capron.

Attorney General Frank Kelley acknowledged the laws of his state left Kevorkian’s status unclear but said the doctor could become a test case.

Because of where Mrs. Adkins died, the case is in the hands of Oakland County Prosecutor Richard Thompson, who said a decision on whether to charge Kevorkian might not be made for up to two months.

Thompson did, however, request a temporary restraining order preventing further use of Kevorkian’s device in the county. Circuit Judge Alice Gilbert refused Wednesday to grant that request but set a hearing for Friday.

Adkins, a 54-year-old Alzheimer’s victim from Portland, Ore., died after Kevorkian attached her to his device and she pushed a button to inject herself with lethal drugs.

Had Adkins used the device in her home state, Kevorkian could have gone to prison for 18 months or longer under a 1981 law. Helping someone commit suicide in Oregon is manslaughter, said Phil Lemman, spokesman for the state Department of Justice.

Prosecutors cited two precedents in Michigan that could influence the Kevorkian case.

In 1920, the state Supreme Court upheld the murder conviction of man who placed a bottle of poison within reach of his wife, who wanted to commit suicide, Thompson said. But the state Court of Appeals decided in 1983 that a man who gave a gun to a friend who used it to commit suicide shouldn’t have been charged, he said.

The appeals court said the high court in 1920 had gone too far in extending responsibility for murder to a second party, said James Shonkwiler, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

″Murder, by statute, requires that the actor - the accused - is the instrument, the cause, of death,″ he said. ″There’s an intervening step when the victim acts of his own free will.

″It is by no means clear that Dr. Kevorkian committed a crime,″ Shonkwiler said. ″You have to reach to get to that. The question is, whose will prevailed in the case - his, or the patient’s? That’s not clear.″

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