The House voted 66 to 40 to explicitly ban the practice which retired pathologist Jack Kevorkian has admitted committing 99 times since 1990. He has been acquitted in three trials on assisted suicide charges as defined by the courts in unwritten common law. A previous, temporary ban that expired in 1994 allowed a loophole for doctors who dispense pain-killing drugs with the intent to relieve suffering, a loophole that has been removed from the new measure.
Because the bill did not receive a two-thirds majority vote, the ban must wait until it clears the Senate, which already approved a similar version in December, and is then signed by Republican Gov. John Engler who has promised to do so. The expected effective date is April 1, 1999. The bill makes intentionally assisting in a suicide a felony punishable by five years in prison or a $10,000 fine.
Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, Florida the Florida Legislature on Wednesday approved a ban on partial-birth abortions, overriding Democratic Gov. Lawton Chile's veto of the bill which was originally approved last year.
The law is expected to take effect in July, after enduring a least one court challenge. Chiles said after the vote that the Legislature acted too late on the veto override, and should have voted on it during a special session last fall. The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the dispute in May.
The House voted overwhelmingly to override the veto last week, and the Senate also approved the override 32-7 on Wednesday. Pro-abortion groups have also threatened to file lawsuits to overturn the law, citing court decisions in other states declaring similar laws unconstitutional.
Overseas, a summit of doctors and medical ethicists from around the world gathered in London on Friday to issue a unified statement that euthanasia and assisted suicide is wrong and should never be legalized.
Spokesmen for the group said public opinion is turning against the practice and said new court rulings and legislation around the world could effectively ban it. "Legalized euthanasia fundamentally rejects universal human rights obligations," Australian bioethicist Dr. John Fleming told an international meeting on compassionate care for the dying. He also praised his own country for turning the tide. "At a time when the world imagined that euthanasia would be universally accepted, following the Northern Territory of Australia's decision to legalize euthanasia, the federal government of Australia decisively turned the tide and has reaffirmed the human rights standard on this issue, not just for Australia but worldwide," he added.
The conference was sponsored by the International Right to Life Federation and The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. Dr. John Wilkie, the American founder and president of the international federation, said the goal of the medical community should be learning how to treat the suffering endured by the terminally ill, not helping them succumb to their maladies even sooner. "Don't kill the patient, kill the pain," he told reporters. Wilkie said only five percent of people died in pain and only two or three percent of patients wanted to die because they were in pain.