Dr. Jack Kevorkian has lashed out at the Michigan Supreme Court for ruling that assisted suicide is a crime and has indicated he will continue to crusade for what he called "a fundamental human right - the right not to suffer - that cannot be taken away by any law."

"What happens to me now therefore will be a perfect sign of where your society stands and what it is," Kevorkian, 66, said.Kevorkian, who has helped 21 severely ill people end their lives since 1990, had hoped the state Supreme Court would rule that medically assisted suicide is a right protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Instead, the seven-member court ruled that "the United States Constitution does not prohibit a state from imposing criminal penalties on one who assists another in committing suicide."

The high court also overturned a ruling on May 10 by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which had found a state law banning assisted suicide unconstitutional for technical reasons. That law expired on Nov. 25.

In a move that stunned some supporters of Kevorkian, the state Supreme Court said that even without a law, suicide assistance "may be prosecuted as a common-law felony" that would carry a five-year prison term.

At the news conference Kevorkian said: "This is a perfect, clear, manifestation of the existence of the inquisition in this state, no different from the medieval one. That may sound melodramatic, but it is true."

"I don't care how they want to argue it, this is a total victory for the prosecution and a total defeat for Dr. Kevorkian," Oakland County Prosecutor Richard Thompson said.