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Michigan Not Suicide Haven, Prosecutor Says

August 24, 1990

DETROIT (AP) _ Authorities determined to keep Michigan from becoming a haven for assisted suicides charged a California man with murder for allegedly helping his cancer-stricken wife die at a suburban motel.

Bertram Harper, 72, of Loomis, Calif., was held Friday at Wayne County Jail on open charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Harper was arrested Sunday, shortly after his wife Virginia, 69, died at the Comfort Inn in Romulus, on Detroit’s outskirts, according to court records. Their daughter, Shanda McGrew, was present but was not charged.

The family flew to Michigan on Saturday after learning from the widely publicized suicide-machine death of Janet Adkins that Michigan has no clear law against helping another person commit suicide, said Derek Humphry, executive director of the Hemlock Society, a national right-to-die group.

Wayne County Prosecutor John O’Hair said Friday he would crack down on assisted suicides.

″It is important for the public to know that Michigan is not a state where people can assist in suicides, commit euthanasia or murder and escape criminal responsibility for their acts,″ O’Hair said in a statement Friday.

″If any organization or person is giving advice to the contrary, it is terrible advice that can lead to very serious consequences for those who follow it.″

Under California law, assisting in suicide is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

Mrs. Harper’s death marks the second highly publicized suicide in Michigan this year, but no criminal charges have been filed in the first.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a retired pathologist from Royal Oak, remains free after providing a suicide device and assisting in the June 4 death of Janet Adkins, 54, of Portland, Ore. Adkins, who had Alzheimer’s disease, pushed a button to pump fatal drugs into her system in Kevorkian’s van at an Oakland County park, about 40 miles north of Detroit.

Authorities said the Harpers did not contact Kevorkian, who is under a court order not to use the device again.

As to why one suicide resulted in charges and the other hasn’t, O’Hair said: ″You’ll have to ask (Oakland County Prosecutor) Dick Thompson that. We felt we had a legal and factual basis to charge Mr. Harper.″

O’Hair refused to comment on Harper’s role in his wife’s death.

Thompson said Thursday the Adkins case remained under criminal investigation.

″No person has ever asked our advice on whether or not to go to Michigan,″ said Humphry, of the Hemlock Society. ″If they had, we would have counseled them to stay at home, handle the situation according to their own ethical beliefs and say nothing.″

The Harpers joined the group in 1988 but did not consult it before going to Michigan; Mr. Harper called police himself, Humphry said.

Michigan authorities ″are making a deterrent example of poor Mr. Harper,″ he said.

Mrs. Harper, who swallowed sleeping pills and put a bag over her head, left a note saying she wanted her husband and daughter with her when she died, Humphry said. A victim of breast cancer, she had a note from a physician indicating she had only two weeks to live, he said.

Harper was held on $25,000 bond pending a preliminary hearing Wednesday. Authorities would decide later what degree to make the murder charge.

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