Jack Kevorkian

  • Born: May 26, 1928
  • Died: June 3, 2011
  • Location: Detroit, Michigan

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Dr. Jack Kevorkian addresses an audience at Wayne State University in Detroit, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007.

Assisted suicide advocate dies at age 83

COREY WILLIAMS, The Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — Jack Kevorkian built his suicide machine with parts gathered from flea markets and stashed it in a rusty Volkswagen van.

But it was Kevorkian's audacious attitude that set him apart in the debate over doctor-assisted suicide. The retired pathologist who said he oversaw the deaths of 130 gravely ill people burned state orders against him, showed up at court in costume and dared authorities to stop him or make his actions legal. He didn't give up until he was sent to prison.

The 83-year-old Kevorkian died Friday at a Michigan hospital without seeking the kind of "planned death" that he once offered to others. He insisted suicide with the help of a medical professional was a civil right.

His gaunt, hollow-cheeked appearance gave him a ghoulish, almost cadaverous look and helped earn him the nickname "Dr. Death." But Kevorkian likened himself to Martin Luther King and Gandhi and called physicians who didn't support him "hypocritic oafs."

"Somebody has to do something for suffering humanity," he once said. "I put myself in my patients' place. This is something I would want."

Kevorkian jabbed his finger in the air as he publicly mocked politicians and religious leaders. He was a magnet for the news media, once talking to reporters with his head and wrists restrained in a medieval-style stock.

His efforts put the medical establishment in knots: Here was a doctor admitting he had helped people die and urging others in the profession to do the same.

Kevorkian died at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, where he had been hospitalized since May 18 with pneumonia and kidney problems. He suffered from a blood clot that traveled up from his leg, according to attorney Mayer Morganroth, who was present and said his friend was "totally in peace, not in pain."

"His medical directive was not to be given any CPR or continuing life program." Morganroth said.

Kevorkian's flamboyant former attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, believes Kevorkian would have taken advantage of doctor-assisted suicide if it had been available.

"If he had enough strength to do something about it, he would have," Fieger said Friday. "Had he been able to go home, Jack Kevorkian probably would not have allowed himself to go back to the hospital."

The former prosecutor whose office convicted Kevorkian of second-degree murder said he found a trace of hypocrisy in Kevorkian's death.

"I assumed that someday he'd commit suicide and tape it and air it for the world to see," said David Gorcyca, who oversaw prosecutions in the Detroit suburbs of Oakland County

Despite Kevorkian's relentless efforts in the 1990s, few states made physician-assisted suicide legal. Laws took effect in Oregon in 1997 and Washington state in 2009, and a 2009 Montana Supreme Court ruling effectively legalized the practice in that state.

L. Brooks Patterson, another former prosecutor and the county executive in Oakland County, described Kevorkian as an "affable guy" but said his tactics hurt his cause.

"I don't think he was the right ambassador to represent the issue," Patterson said. "It was the law be damned with him. The issue would have been better debated in a more serious arena than in the back of Jack's van. ... It was a sideshow. Helping people commit suicide in the back of a van is not dying with dignity."

Those who sought Kevorkian's help typically suffered from cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease, multiple sclerosis or paralysis.

He catapulted into the public eye in 1990 when he used his machine to inject lethal drugs into an Alzheimer's patient. He often left the bodies at emergency rooms or motels.

For much of the decade, he escaped legal efforts to stop him. His first four trials, all on assisted-suicide charges, resulted in three acquittals and one mistrial. Murder charges in Kevorkian's first cases were thrown out because Michigan had no law against assisted suicide. The Legislature wrote one in response. He also was stripped of his medical license.

Devotees filled courtrooms wearing "I Back Jack" buttons. Critics questioned his headline-grabbing methods, which were aided by Fieger, until the two parted ways before the 1999 trial in which he was sent to prison for eight years.

"The issue's got to be raised to the level where it is finally decided," Kevorkian said during a broadcast of CBS' "60 Minutes" that aired the videotaped death of Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old man with Lou Gehrig's disease.

He challenged prosecutors to charge him again, and they obliged with second-degree murder charges.

Kevorkian acted as his own lawyer. In his closing argument, he said some acts "by sheer common sense are not crimes."

"Just look at me," he told jurors. "Honestly now, do you see a criminal? Do you see a murderer?"

Kevorkian's ultimate goal was to establish "obitoriums" where people would go to die. Doctors there could harvest organs and perform medical experiments during the suicide process. Such experiments would be "entirely ethical spinoffs" of suicide, he wrote in his 1991 book "Prescription: Medicide — The Goodness of Planned Death."

In a rare televised interview from prison in 2005, Kevorkian told MSNBC he regretted "a little" the actions that put him there.

"It was disappointing because what I did turned out to be in vain. ... And my only regret was not having done it through the legal system, through legislation, possibly," he said.

Kevorkian was freed in June 2007 after serving eight years of a 10- to 25-year sentence. His lawyers said he suffered from hepatitis C, diabetes and other problems, and Kevorkian promised in affidavits that he would not assist in any more suicides if released.

Tina Allerellie became a fierce critic after her 34-year-old sister, Karen Shoffstall, turned to Kevorkian in 1997. She said Shoffstall, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, was struggling with depression and fear but could have lived for years longer.

Kevorkian's intent "has always been to gain notoriety," Allerellie said in 2007.

In 2008, Kevorkian ran for Congress as an independent, receiving just 2.7 percent of the vote in his suburban Detroit district. He said his experience showed the party system was "corrupt" and "has to be completely overhauled."

Born in 1928, in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac, Kevorkian graduated from the University of Michigan's medical school in 1952 and went into pathology.

He said he first became interested in euthanasia during his internship year when he watched a middle-aged woman die of cancer. She was so emaciated, her sagging, discolored skin "covered her bones like a cheap, wrinkled frock," Kevorkian wrote.

On June 4, 1990, he drove his van to a secluded park north of Detroit. After the Alzheimer's patient, 54-year-old Janet Adkins of Portland, Ore., met him there, he inserted a needle into her arm. When she was ready, she flipped the switch that began a flow of lethal drugs.

He later switched from his device to canisters of carbon monoxide, again insisting patients take the final step by removing a clamp that released the deadly gas to a face mask.

Kevorkian's life story became the subject of the 2010 HBO movie "You Don't Know Jack," which earned actor Al Pacino Emmy and Golden Globe Awards for his portrayal of Kevorkian. Pacino paid tribute to Kevorkian during his Emmy acceptance speech and recognized the former doctor, who sat smiling in the audience.

Pacino said during the speech that it was a pleasure to "try to portray someone as brilliant and interesting and unique" as Kevorkian and a "pleasure to know him."

Kevorkian himself said he liked the movie and enjoyed the attention it generated. But he doubted it would inspire much action by a new generation of assisted-suicide advocates.

"You'll hear people say, 'Well, it's in the news again, it's time for discussing this further.' No, it isn't. It's been discussed to death," he told The Associated Press. "There's nothing new to say about it. It's a legitimate, ethical medical practice as it was in ancient Rome and Greece."

Kevorkian's fame also made him fodder for late-night comedians' monologues and sitcoms. His name became cultural shorthand for jokes about hastening the end of life.

Even admirers couldn't resist. Adam Mazer, the Emmy-winning writer for "You Don't Know Jack," got off one of the best lines of the 2010 Emmy telecast.

"I'm grateful you're my friend," Mazer said, looking out at Kevorkian. "I'm even more grateful you're not my physician."

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Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub, John Flesher and Randi Berris contributed to this report.
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Some quotes on Jack Kevorkian, who died Friday in a Michigan hospital:

The Associated Press, The Associated Press

"No matter how you feel on the issue of assisted suicide, you should respect the man who sacrificed his own liberty for a cause he believed in. However, I find a certain amount of hypocrisy that ... he didn't end his life in the same manner that he ended others. I assumed that someday he'd commit suicide and tape it and air it for the world to see." — Former Oakland County, Mich., Prosecutor David Gorcyca, whose office convicted Kevorkian of second-degree murder.

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"I don't think he was the right ambassador to represent the issue. It was the law be damned with him. The issue would have been better debated in a more serious arena than in the back of Jack's van. ... It was a sideshow. Helping people commit suicide in the back of a van is not dying with dignity." — L. Brooks Patterson, a former prosecutor and the county executive in Oakland County.

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"Left out in much of the commentary on the death of Jack Kevorkian is the sobering and deadly legacy he leaves behind. May God have mercy on his soul and on the scores of confused, conflicted and at times clinically depressed victims he killed.

"It is both ironic and tragic that Kevorkian himself was afforded a dignified, natural death in a hospital, something he denied to those who came to him in desperation, only to be poisoned and have their bodies left in places such as vans and motel rooms." — Ned McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

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"It's a rare human being who understands intellectually and emotionally the freedoms contained within our Constitution and the right of every human being to make decisions about their own lives consistent with their own conscience and without the interference of government." — Geoffrey Fieger, attorney who represented Kevorkian.


Condolence & Memory Journal

i went to see jack about a torn tendon in my knee about twenty years ago. my regular doctor said i needed minor surgery and three weeks rest but jack recommended assisted suicide instead. well he was right the pain went away and so did i. i am writing this via the famous medium jewy mcjewjew.

Posted by double anal - toronto - he killed me   June 19, 2014

With all these silly websites, such a great page keeps my interent hope alive.

Posted by Maribeth - JPzytpXJOh, NM - fEVdowzVKMAn   August 15, 2012

Hats off to whoveer wrote this up and posted it.

Posted by Gina - xAzXhyamnkBet, TN - SKvMRuWqmxxfj   December 21, 2011

Candle

RIP Jack! prayers go out to your family & friends. No one had the right to judge you Jack because they aren't God. Judge not less you be judged.

Posted by mary    August 05, 2011

I always liked you Jack :)

Posted by hairball43074@yahoo.com - OH   July 07, 2011

Always admired Jack's dedication in helping people to die with dignity.
He no doubt has paved the way to for palliative and hospice care movements which essentially allow a person to die on their own terms, without prolonged suffering.
He put the whole issue of patient's rights to dignity and self determination whenn it comes to human suffering.
His contributions to this cause have left a lasting impression on our society.
He will be missed

Posted by Mamie Britton - Manchester, NH - admirer   July 06, 2011

I am strongly Christian (sort of 1/2 Catholic and 1/2 Evanglical), so you might think that I would consider Dr. Kevorkian's work to be the ultimate sin. But I also practice medicine. I KNOW that not so many decades ago, many of the people who today would choose assisted suicide would have died off long before they had to make that decision. The advancement of medical science and technology has ALSO meant the extension of the lives of some people who would have died sooner (and thus with less time spent suffering) of their terminal illnesses. I know God to be a God of mercy. I believe that Jack Kevorkian was a man of mercy. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy." (Matthew 5:7) ... Blessed are the merciful - That is, those who are so affected by the sufferings of others as to be disposed to alleviate them. This is given as an evidence of piety, and it is said that they who show mercy to others shall obtain it. Nowhere do we imitate God more than in showing mercy. In nothing does God delight more than in the exercise of mercy, Exodus 34:6; Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9.

Posted by Lynn-Marie M Peashka - ID - Medical practitioner   July 06, 2011

I met Jack Kevorkian at Jackson Mi. He was an interesting,educated man with many talents. He had a funny side to him humorous. I believe in the statement made by Geoffrey Fieger, whom I also met in Jackson, Mi. I believe Kevorkian was a politcal prisoner and his cell should of been occupied by someone that needed to be in prison. After I retired from the MDOC I became an advocate to release Mr. Kevorkian by writing and calling the parole board writing to newspapers etc. I would like to believe that I and others I influenced helped in his release from prison. Only god will judge Jack Kevorkian. My prayers are always that perpetual light shine upon him .Rest in peace. Genevieve I. Allen-Owens

Posted by Genevieve I. Allen-Owens - Jackson, MI - Stand beside him   June 08, 2011

Many a days my Father would of welcomed you into our home. Breathless and unable to do anything he enjoyed He knew you could save him from a painful live and death. I wish you could of came and helped him. He suffered so. The fight in his last few minutes of life were painful you could see it in his eyes and the way his whole body lifted off the gurney trying ti get peace reaching for God.
You were a good man. Now rest in Peace.

Posted by Judy Bryan - Fort Wayne, IN - He was a hero   June 08, 2011

We met at Wayne State when you were giving a lecture and while I thoroughly believe in your thoughts I always wondered if there might have been a netter way. ButI know your heart was in the right place and you will be missed by friends. RIP Jack

Posted by Cathy - detroit, MI - friend   June 07, 2011

Candle

I remember meeting you at Michigan State in the Mid-90s; my family knew you during the early years. Your vision will be a lasting legacy. Sympathies to those close to you.

Posted by Helen Knar Cirrito    June 06, 2011

Candle

losing faith in humanity one person at a time... May he rest in peace and may the lord accept him! He was by far no murderer, but a man who believed no one should suffer! Most people think nothing of putting an animal down, if it is suffering, why would this world be so inhumane to allow a human life to suffer till the Lord takes them. Everyday we wake up we are one day closer to dying.
Bridget 1978 living with R.A

Posted by Bridget - absolutly nobody   June 05, 2011

Candle

May you rest in peace.

Posted by Debbie    June 04, 2011


Default Album

In this April 14, 2010 file photo, Dr. Jack Kevorkian attends the premiere of 'You Don't Know Jack: The Life and Deaths of Jack Kevorkian" at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York.
In this April 14, 2010 file photo, Actor Al Pacino, left, and Dr. Jack Kevorkian attend the premiere of 'You Don't Know Jack: The Life and Deaths of Jack Kevorkian' at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York.
Assisted suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian poses with his "suicide machine" in Michigan, in this Feb. 6, 1991, file photo.
Waterford Township, Mich., police Sgt. Michael Kennedy, left, looks on in 51st District Court as Dr. Jack Kevorkian, 70, gets congraulated by constitutional law professor Robert Sedler, left, and attorney David Gorosh, right, after being released on bond Wednesday, Nov. 25, l998.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian talks to members of the news media about his new painting titled " Genocide," on Saturday, March 15, 1997, at the opening of his show at Ariana Gallery in Royal Oak, Mich.
Assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, blue sweater, walks with his attorney Mayer Morganroth, right, out of the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Mich., Friday, June 1, 2007. Directly behind Kevorkian are paralegals Ruth Holmes, left, Sarah Tucker and attorney Jeffrey Morganroth.

Default Album

Dr. Jack Kevorkian addresses an audience at Wayne State University in Detroit, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007.
Barbara Walters, poses with Dr. Jack Kevorkian, attached to a device similar to one Kevorkian has used in assisted suicides in this March 11, 1993 file photo.
In this Nov. 30, 1993 photo, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, left, stands in the Oakland County District Courtroom of Judge Daniel Sawicki in Royal Oak, Mich. during his arraignment on charges he violated Michigan's ban on assisted suicide in the Oct. 22, 1993, suicide of Merian Fredrick, of Ann Arbor.