Mich. judge strikes down law on assisted suicide


DETROIT -- A Michigan judge struck down yesterday a state law banning assisted suicide, making it clear for the first time that his ruling was intended to void the entire bill, not just the parts of it he found unconstitutional, as he did Monday.

"I am unaware of any case dealing with a fundamental right where such a ruling could leave any vitality in such a statute," said the judge, Richard C. Kaufman, of Wayne County Circuit Court.

Moments earlier, he ruled that Dr. Jack Kevorkian met all four of the conditions that the judge said were necessary to challenge the law in a case involving Donald O'Keefe, 73, who had been suffering from bone cancer.

But Judge Kaufman's ruling was immediately challenged. Officials in neighboring Oakland County, where Dr. Kevorkian has been in jail for two weeks charged with assisting in another suicide, said again yesterday that they had no intention of complying with Judge Kaufman's ruling.

The Wayne County prosecutor's office petitioned the Michigan Court of Appeals to stay Judge Kaufman's ruling and also asked the Michigan Supreme Court to bypass the appellate court and rule as soon as possible on the constitutionality of the assisted suicide law.

Earlier in the day, in Oakland County, Judge Daniel Sawicki of District Court ordered Dr. Kevorkian to stand trial in the Oct. 22 suicide of Merian Frederick, 72, who had been suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Oakland County Prosecutor Richard Thompson said he would charge Dr. Kevorkian, a 65-year-old retired pathologist, who has been on a hunger strike since being jailed Nov. 30, with assisting still another suicide.

That was the 20th and most recent suicide at which Dr. Kevorkian had been present since 1990 -- Dr. Ali Khalili, who had been suffering from bone cancer, on Nov. 22.

After Judge Sawicki ordered Dr. Kevorkian to stand trial in the death of Ms. Frederick, Geoffrey Fieger, the doctor's chief lawyer, pleaded with the judge to reduce his client's bond to a symbolic $100 from $50,000.

He said that if he did so, Dr. Kevorkian would promise not to assist in more suicides until after an appellate court issued a final hearing on the constitutionality of the law.

Judge Sawicki denied that request.

Dr. Kevorkian has said he will not eat while he is jailed because to do so would be a form of cooperating with the "immoral" system that had put him there.

He asked supporters not to attempt to pay his bond, although yesterday Mr. Fieger indicated he would now welcome someone bailing out the advocate of physician-assisted suicide.

Mr. Fieger said he will file motions tomorrow before an Oakland County Circuit judge, Jessica Cooper, asking her to reduce Dr. Kevorkian's bail and also to rule that Judge Kaufman's ruling has statewide effect, which would void all charges against him. Oakland County prosecutors will vigorously contest that attempt.

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