Citation. 248 Mich. App. 373, 639 N.W.2d 291, 2001 Mich. App. 225.
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Defendant, Dr. Jack Kevorkian (Defendant), administered a lethal drug to Thomas Youk (Youk) in a “mercy killing” because Youk had been diagnosed with a fatal disease.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Euthanasia is not legal and therefore not a defense to murder.
Youk had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. On the first videotape that the Defendant made, Youk described his condition, stating that he was confined to a wheelchair, could not move his legs or left arm, had minimal use of his right arm, was fed through a tube, and used a machine to help him breathe. Youk then signed a consent form indicating his wish to have a direct lethal injection rather than use a machine himself. On the second videotape, the Defendant administered the lethal injection, and Youk died. The Defendant then gave a 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace, in which he urged the authorities to charge him with murder in an attempt to get euthanasia before the courts.
Is euthanasia legal?
No. Rather than asking the court to hold that his actions were justified under legally acceptable theories such as aiding Youk in exercising his right to refuse medical treatment or attempting to alleviate Youk’s pain in a manner other than death and rather than asking the court to rule that he legally assisted in Youk’s suicide, the defendant has specifically asked the court to legalize euthanasia. The defendant argued for the legality of euthanasia on two constitutional grounds; however, the court threw out the defendant’s Ninth Amendment claim for failure to brief the issue on appeal. The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution (Constitution) provides that “no state shall deprive a person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The Michigan Constitution counterpart is nearly identical. As to the Fourteenth Amendment claim, the court held that the constitutional right to privacy does not include a right to commit euthanasia so that an individual can be free
from intolerable and irremediable suffering. Further, a “right” to assisted suicide “is not a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause.” The court states that its decision is driven by a lack of meaningful precedent on the issue, the fact that expanding the right to privacy to include euthanasia would essentially take the debate out of the arenas of public debate and legislative action, and that by expanding the right to privacy to include euthanasia, the court would be involving the judiciary in deciding questions beyond its capacity, i.e. how much pain is required before it becomes intolerable and irremediable.
Assistance in committing suicide is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution. Therefore, it has heretofore not been held legal.