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MICHIGAN JUDGE NULLIFIES BAN ON ASSISTING SUICIDE

Judge Cynthia Stephens of Wayne County Circuit Court struck down Michigan's so-called "anti-suicide" law Thursday, throwing into doubt whether suicide-doctor Jack Kevorkian can be charged with murder.

The ruling temporarily blocks attempts by prosecutors to charge Kevorkian with murder.

Last Sunday in Michigan Kevorkian reportedly assisted in a 16th suicide. He was arrested by police but released a few hours later into the custody of his lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger.

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on behalf of two terminally ill cancer patients and seven local doctors, claiming the statute violated the constitutional right of terminally ill patients.

Kevorkian, the retired pathologist at the center of the debate, was not a party to the suit.

Judge Stephens said the law was unconstitutional because lawmakers rushed it into effect and did not allow ample time for the public to debate the issue.

The original law, passed in December, was due to take effect in April, but after Kevorkian helped two more people commit suicide lawmakers added revisions to the measure to make assisted suicides a felony and passed the new law Feb. 25.

Stephens said the public should have been given time to study the changes and respond.

"A court should only strike down a statute if it violates the rights of the people or ensures power to government reserved to people," Judge Stephens wrote.

Fieger said he was pleased with the ruling.

The state is likely to appeal the decision.

Fieger said he could not guarantee that Kevorkian will refrain from helping more people end their lives while the law is debated in the courts.

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