Guest Author - Donna Johnson
Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a pathologist, musician and painter, was far better known for his controversial stance on euthanasia than for any of his other achievements. His participation in many assisted suicides and the resulting criminal trials earned widespread media attention for the “Right to Die” movement.
Kevorkian was born with the first name Murad on May 26, 1928 in Michigan. His keen interest in death first became apparent in the 1950s while he was working as a medical resident at a hospital and began taking pictures of the eyes of patients who were close to death. He also advocated medical experimentation on and harvesting organs from Death Row inmates under sedation prior to their execution. In the 1980s, Kevorkian changed his focus to euthanasia.
The doctor proposed euthanasia for terminally ill patients as an end to their suffering. To assist those who were physically incapable of suicide by other means, he developed a device he dubbed “Thanatron” that allowed the patients to simply push a button to start an IV solution that would end their lives. He first used this device to assist in the suicide of Alzheimer’s patient Janet Adkins in 1990.
Authorities sought criminal charges against Kevorkian for the death, but as Michigan had no laws specifically against assisted suicide at that time, they were unsuccessful. The state obtained a court order to forbid the use of the Thanatron the following year and suspended his medical license. Despite this, Kevorkian continued to assist in suicides, eventually helping 130 people end their lives.
In 1998, during an interview with the television show “60 Minutes,” Kevorkian showed a video of himself assisting in the suicide of Lou Gehrig’s disease sufferer Thomas Youk. This time, Kevorkian was shown as an active participant, administering the lethal drugs for Youk, who was physically incapable of doing so. Using a law enacted earlier that year that made assisted suicide a felony, the state of Michigan filed second-degree murder and delivery of a controlled substance charges against the doctor.
Kevorkian was convicted of Youk’s death in 1999 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was released in 2007 for good behavior. As a condition of his release, he swore not to assist in any additional suicides. He passed the time after his release lecturing and campaigning during an unsuccessful Congressional bid. In 2010, Al Pacino portrayed Kevorkian in an HBO movie called “You Don’t Know Jack.”
After suffering poor health, including ailments related to hepatitis C and diabetes, for some time, Kevorkian entered a Michigan hospital in May 2011 for treatment of kidney issues and pneumonia. On June 3, 2011, he died in that hospital. The man who had been referred to as “Dr. Death” would not be felled by his own hand, however. Instead, initial reports indicated a pulmonary thrombosis, a natural cause, caused his death. Kevorkian was 83 years old.