Controversial pathologist's rise to fame in 1990s led to national debate in the US over assisted suicide. I admired Doctor Kevorkian's efforts to establish the "right to die" for people suffering while waiting to die. He had a personality that made his efforts more difficult, but he finally achieved his goals for all of us.---BBB
'Dr Death' Jack Kevorkian, advocate of assisted suicide, dies in hospital
The Guardian, Saturday 4 June 2011
Jack Kevorkian, the pathologist known as Dr Death who claimed to have helped 130 people commit suicide when terminally ill, died on Friday in Detroit. He was 83 and had been in hospital since last month with pneumonia.
Kevorkian's rise to fame, or infamy, in the 1990s led to a national debate in the United States on assisted suicide. He built a suicide machine, known as the Mercitron or Thanatron, which he operated out of a Volkswagen van to inject a lethal drug dose for people who sought his help in dying. After one of his injections was shown on national television, he served eight years in jail for murder, but lived to see his life made into an award-winning HBO movie last year, starring Al Pacino.
Kervokian provocatively likened himself to Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi, but the American Medical Association called him "a reckless instrument of death" who posed a great threat to the public.
For nearly a decade, he evaded efforts to stop him. Four trials resulted in three acquittals and one mistrial. His home state of Michigan had no law against assisted suicide in the early 1990s, but later enacted one in response to Kevorkian's activities.
During his trials supporters filled courtrooms wearing "I Back Jack" badges. He called his prosecutors "Nazis", and said that doctors who did not agree with him were "hypocritic oafs". In 1996 he arrived in court wearing US colonial-era costume of white wig, breeches, gold brocade coat and tricorn hat, and waving a copy of a letter by Thomas Jefferson which he said defended suicide for the terminally ill.
"My ultimate aim is to make euthanasia a positive experience," he told the New York Times. "I'm trying to knock the medical profession into accepting its responsibilities, and those responsibilities include assisting their patients with death."
In March 1999 a Michigan jury found Kevorkian guilty of second-degree murder, after he videotaped himself administrating a lethal injection to Thomas Youk, a man with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The video was sent to the 60 Minutes TV news show, and caused a national outcry as well as serving as prime evidence for a first-degree murder charge.
"You had the audacity to go on national television, show the world what you did and dare the legal system to stop you," said judge Jessica Cooper. "Well, sir, consider yourself stopped." Kervorkian was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in jail, and served eight years.
Geoffrey Fieger, his lawyer and friend, said: "He was a physician who had an acute sense of compassion and a respect for the dignity of his patients."
Asked if Kevorkian would have chosen to end his life by suicide, given the opportunity, Fieger responded that he had neither the physical or mental strength to make that decision in his final days. "Jack Kevorkian didn't have an obligation or a duty to society to end his life in the manner in which some of his patients did," Fieger said. "Everyone chooses the very end for themselves."
Fieger said of Kevorkian: "It's a rare human being who can single-handedly take on an entire society by the scruff of its neck and force it to focus on the suffering of other human beings. It's a rare human being who has the courage of his convictions, and is strong enough to stand up against the never-ending threats and attacks of the most powerful figures of our society."
Kevorkian's life story became the subject of the 2010 HBO movie, You Don't Know Jack, which earned Al Pacino an Emmy and a Golden Globe award for his portrayal of Kevorkian. Pacino paid tribute during his Emmy acceptance speech, calling Kevorkian "brilliant, interesting and unique". "You're all right Jack," Pacino said waving his award at the doctor, who sat smiling in the audience.