John Jay Hooker and long-time friend, attorney Hal Hardin, challenge right-to-die in Tennessee Courts

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NASHVILLE — A lawyer, civil-rights activist and former political candidate who is facing a terminal illness has filed a suit challenging Tennessee law that prohibits assisted suicide.

John Jay Hooker contends that the law, which makes it a felony for a doctor or another person to assist in any way in someone’s death, violates the state constitution. He recites part of its first article from memory, focusing on one line: “Power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness.”

“If I’m in a state to die, it’s just a question of what day and what month and my happiness is involved. Do I want to sit there in bed and be the prisoner of that pain?” Hooker said. “Does the government have the right to tell me I can’t check out of this hotel? I say the government can’t tell the people they can’t do something that is in pursuit of their own happiness and that doesn’t involve anyone else.”

He also argues in his lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Davidson County Chancery Court, that a doctor taking away machines that support life and prescribing medications that end it are not different.

Three doctors joined with Hooker to bring the case:

• Hooker’s physician, Dr. Jeffrey Sosman of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.
• Dr. W. Barton Campbell of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
• Dr. Robert Ballard, a family-medicine physician in the Memphis suburb of Collierville, Tenn.

Hal Hardin, a former U.S. district attorney for Middle Tennessee and former circuit judge, is their lawyer.

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