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ACLU Challenges Michigan Assisted Suicide Law;
Case Filed on Behalf of Cancer Patients, Doctors
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 1, 1993
DETROIT -- Acting to protect personal rights and freedoms, the American
Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today challenged the state's assisted
The challenge, filed this afternoon in Wayne County Circuit Court in
Detroit, is being taken on behalf of two terminally ill cancer patients
and several well-respected doctors. (Dr. Jack Kevorkian is not a plaintiff
in the lawsuit.)
This is an area in which the state must respect our personal freedom and
autonomy," said Howard Simon, the Executive Director of the ACLU of
Michigan. "No government official or private organization should be able
to dictate how much pain and suffering we must endure before being allowed
to bring an end to our life."
The ACLU asked the Court to declare the law unconstitutional under both
the Michigan and United States Constitutions. The ACLU also asked the
Court to issue a preliminary injunction to enjoin the state from enforcing
the law while a challenge is pending.
In the next few days, the ACLU will be asking the court for preliminary
injunctive relief to block the Legislature's attempt to put the law into
"immediate effect." Based upon the opinions of two Michigan Attorneys
General (including the current Attorney General in an unrelated matter in
1976), ACLU attorneys will argue that immediate effect cannot be given to
a law or amendments to a law that were passed in a previous session of the
legislature without immediate effect.
The lawsuit says that the assisted suicide law violates the due process
clauses of the Michigan and U.S. Constitutions in addition to the general
right of privacy recognized in the Michigan Constitution.
"Our Constitutions protect the right of competent adults to make decisions
about the voluntary termination of their lives," said Elizabeth Gleicher,
an ACLU cooperating attorney who is the lead counsel in the assisted
suicide challenge. "This is a fundamental constitutional right that must
have the strongest protection from our courts."
The parties to the ACLU lawsuit include Teresa Hobbins and Kenneth
Shapiro, both of whom are cancer patients. The lawsuit was also filed on
behalf of a group of respected Michigan doctors and health care
professionals representing virtually every field of medicine that treats
terminally and chronically ill patients. (See attached list of plaintiffs
for more information on plaintiffs in the lawsuit.)
The life stories of both Hobbins and Shapiro vividly demonstrate the human
side of this ill-conceived and unconstitutional law. Shapiro, for example,
is a 5O-year-old resident of East Lansing who was diagnosed in 1982 with
malignant melanoma and has since had approximately 5O surgeries. Many of
his treatments have been classified as experimental and therefore risky.
Shapiro said that he feels the assisted suicide law will make prosecutors
a large part of the medical equation. "My doctors will have to wonder if
they will be prosecuted for taking a certain course of action that could
conceivably lead to my death," Shapiro said.
Hobbins, a 42-year-old Lansing mother of three, has had multiple myeloma,
a severe blood disease, for the last six years. "I fight, I cry and I work
at it," she said. "But when the time comes and disease has got me and
there isn't anything more I or anyone else can do, I want to have all
options available to me -- including assisted suicide."
The doctors and other health care professionals who have agreed to
participate in the lawsuit cover virtually every field that treats
terminally ill patients, including an oncologist, a rheumatologist, a
hematologist, a pharmacist, a psychiatrist, an internist and the Chief of
Staff of a major hospital in Detroit.
Saying that he fears the law will affect medical judgments, Kenneth
Weinberger, M.D., a Rheumatologist, is participating in the lawsuit
because he believes that "no one should be forced to lie in agony awaiting
death because of someone else's morals."
"It is appropriate for the state to regulate assisted suicides, but not to
outlaw them," he said.
Largely in reaction to the activities of one man, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the
Michigan Legislature and Governor pushed through a law that makes
physician-assisted suicide a felony that can be punished with a four-year
prison term. The law, which was made effective immediately last week,
also prohibits the assistance of any licensed health professional, family
member or friend in a patient's decision to end his or her life.
In addition to challenging the law under the privacy and due process
clauses of the state and federal constitutions, the ACLU also alleges that
the way the law was enacted violates several Michigan constitutional
provisions regarding legislative process.
"This is such a personal issue that it must transcend normal political
wrangling," the ACLU's Simon said. "This is an area where the government
and private interest groups do not belong -- it is a decision that must be
left to patients, their families and their doctors."
Detroit - Following are the names and short descriptions of the plaintiffs
in A. v. Attorney General Of Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan's challenge to
the state's assisted suicide law.
Teresa Hobbins, a 42-year-old Lansing mother of three. Hobbins has had
Multiple Myelomla, a terminal blood cancer, for six years and is currently
Kenneth A. Shapiro, a 50-year-old resident of East Lansing. Shapiro, the
author of a 1985 work titled Dying and Living: One Man's Life with Cancer,
was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in the Spring of 1977. He has since
had approximately 50 surgeries and treatments including radiation,
chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
Norman Bolton, M.D., is a general surgeon and Chief of Staff of Sinai
Hospital. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of Sinai Hospital
and a former Chairman of the Michigan Board of Medicine.
William Drake, Pharm D.,is a Professor of Pharmacy at Wayne State
University. He is also a pharmacist who oversees a large operation that
dispenses drugs, especially pain alleviating medicine, to terminally ill
patients, the elderly and those residing in hospices.
D. Elliot Grysen, M.D., is a licensed physician and attorney practicing
law in Michigan. He has emergency medical experience at several hospitals
in Michigan and Illinois. He is President and Medical Director of MEDPROBE
Inc., a medico-legal consulting firm.
Elliot D. Luby, M.D., is a Professor of Psychiatry and Law in both the
Schools of Medicine and Law of Wayne State University. He is the Emeritus
Chief of Psychiatry at Harper Hospital. He is a member of the Department
of Psychiatry at the hospital and a practicing, psychiatrist.
Ken Tuckers M.D., is an Oncologist and Hematologist who has been in
private practice for more than 25 years. He is on the Senior Attending
Staff of Detroit Memorial and Macomb Hospital Center.
Catherine Upton, M.D. is the Senior Staff Physician in the Department of
Internal Medicine at Henry Ford Hospital. She is also the President of the
Michigan Society of Internal Medicine.
Kenneth A. Weinberger, M.D., is a Senior Associate at the Detroit Macomb
Hospital Corporation. He is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of
Medicine, Section of Rheumatology, at the Wayne State University School of
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