It took only 10 hours for jurors to find suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian not guilty of violating Michigan’s ban on assisted suicide. Kevorkian, 65, had been charged with helping Thomas Hyde of Novi, Michigan to commit suicide last August. Kevorkian said he was “elated” by the May 2 decision.
The verdict was seen as a watershed for euthanasia supporters while an anti-euthanasia group felt that the jury had “succumbed to a soap opera defense of legal games, word games and emotionalism.”
Despite the fact the State of Michigan had imposed a temporary ban on assisted suicide and the fact that Kevorkian himself had admitted to breaking the law, the jurors had been instructed to look at the suicide doctor’s motivations and not his actions. Judge Thomas Jackson told the jurors that they could acquit Kevorkian if they believed he intended to ease his patient’s suffering by helping him to inhale carbon monoxide gas.
Spokespersons from the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force roundly criticized the decision. Rita Marker, who heads the group, said “If one accepts the argument put forward by Kevorkian and his lawyer that ending Thomas Hyde’s life by carbon monoxide poisoning was just ending his ‘suffering,’ then it would follow that the homeless could be gassed and the unemployed could be poisoned to solve the employment problem.”
When asked what the decision meant for Kevorkian and his supporters, Marker responded that the finding “does not translate into a victory for Kevorkian on the real issue of whether or not he broke Michigan’s law by participating in the death of Thomas Hyde. He openly admitted that he broke the law.”
Wayne County assistant prosecutor Timothy Kenny echoed these sentiments. He claimed that the emotion of the case made it hard for the jurors to concentrate on the actual facts. “We needed the jury to look to more abstract notions of following the law and the need to follow the law.”
Kevorkian’s lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, was able to shift the focus and convince the jury that it wasn’t Kevorkian on trial but “everyone’s rights on trial.” Kevorkian, who is not a licensed practitioner, says he would like to work with other doctors and the public in setting up assisted suicide guidelines despite the fact that the American Medical Association, the medical profession’s rule-making body, opposes the practice.
Three of his previous cases are still under review by the Michigan State of Appeals. Because of this, he has not said he hopes other doctors will come forward now that he has been found not guilty.