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Law Designed to Stop Kevorkian Helped Him Get Off the Hook With PM-Kevorkian, Bjt

May 3, 1994

DETROIT (AP) _ The law designed to stop Dr. Jack Kevorkian instead helped get him off the hook.

In writing Michigan’s ban on assisting in a suicide, lawmakers created a loophole that Kevorkian slipped through. Now the question is whether lawmakers can - or will - fix the problems by the time the measure expires on Nov. 25.

Assistant Prosecutor Timothy Kenny said after Kevorkian’s acquittal Monday that the measure is ″fraught with ambiguities″ and that lawmakers will have to rewrite it if they expect a conviction.

The law allows for medical procedures that are intended to relieve suffering, even if they hasten death.

Kenny contended that provision was meant for doctors to prescribe experimental medication for terminal patients - not for Kevorkian to administer carbon monoxide. But Kevorkian said it applied to him. And the jury agreed with him, three jurors said after they pronounced their innocent verdict.

″We believe the intent was not to help Hyde commit suicide,″ Gwen Bryson said. ″We believe it was to relieve pain and suffering.″

Yale Kamisar, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Michigan who opposes Kevorkian’s cause, said the jurors were misguided.

″This was the most incredible semantic jungle I’ve ever seen,″ he said. ″The jury was obviously confused about intent vs. motive. What you want to do doesn’t matter as long as you know what’s going to happen.″

Robert Sedler, a professor of constitutional law at Wayne State University, said an acquittal would relieve doctors of the fear of prosecution when they give medications to their terminally ill patients to hasten death.

″The legal effect is only for Kevorkian, but the political effect is much broader and could render this law inoperative,″ said Sedler, who supports the choice of assisted suicide. ″It tells prosecutors in Michigan that if you can’t convict Kevorkian, you’re not going to be able to convict anyone else.″

One lawmaker said it would probably take state Supreme Court action to spur the Legislature to redesign, or scrap, the temporary law. A commission created by the Legislature to study the issue couldn’t even agree on a recommendation.

Three judges have already overturned the law as unconstitutional, and their rulings are now before the Michigan Court of Appeals.

″I ultimately think the Supreme Court will rule that people have a right to decide. I don’t know that the Legislature will act before that opinion,″ said state Rep. Ted Wallace, who supports regulated assisted suicide.

Oakland County Prosecutor Richard Thompson, a commission member who opposes legalizing assisted suicide, said he thinks the Legislature will try to avoid the issue.

″Let me tell you, no person in public life relishes grappling with this issue because it’s so emotional and so controversial,″ Thompson said last week. ″So they might just decide to throw it out to the voters.″

Kevorkian is leading a petition drive to get the assisted suicide question on the Nov. 8 ballot in Michigan.

The chairman of the commission on assisted suicide, Dr. Howard Brody, said putting the issue on the ballot - along with the related safeguards - would be no simple matter.

″Listing on a referendum ballot all the safeguards makes the thing so darn complicated that the voter is going to say, ’How can I possibly vote on this?‴ he said.

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