Tuesday, April 16, 2013

This Day in History: Apr 16, 1990: The "Doctor of Death", Jack Kevorkian, participates in his first assisted suicide.

Jacob "Jack" Kevorkian (May 26, 1928 – June 3, 2011[2]), commonly known as "Dr. Death", was an American pathologist, euthanasia activist, painter, author, composer and instrumentalist. He is best known for publicly championing a terminal patient's right to die via physician-assisted suicide; he claimed to have assisted at least 130 patients to that end. He famously said, "dying is not a crime".[3]


In 1999, Kevorkian was arrested and tried for his direct role in a case of voluntary euthanasia. He was convicted of second-degree murder and served eight years of a 10-to-25-year prison sentence. He was released on parole on June 1, 2007, on condition he would not offer suicide advice to any other person.[4]

As an oil painter and a jazz musician, Kevorkian marketed limited quantities of his visual and musical artwork to the public.

Over a period of decades, Kevorkian developed several controversial ideas related to death. In a 1959 journal article, he wrote:
I propose that a prisoner condemned to death by due process of law be allowed to submit, by his own free choice, to medical experimentation under complete anaesthesia (at the time appointed for administering the penalty) as a form of execution in lieu of conventional methods prescribed by law.[14]

Senior doctors at the University of Michigan, Kevorkian's employer, opposed his proposal and Kevorkian chose to leave the University rather than stop advocating his ideas. Ultimately, he gained little support for his plan. He returned to the idea of using death row inmates for medical purposes after the Supreme Court's 1976 decision in Gregg v. Georgia re-instituted the death penalty. He advocated harvesting the organs from inmates after the death penalty was carried out for transplant into sick patients, but failed to gain the cooperation of prison officials.[15]

As a pathologist at Pontiac General Hospital, Kevorkian experimented with transfusing blood from the recently deceased into live patients. He drew blood from corpses recently brought into the hospital and transferred it successfully into the bodies of hospital staff members. Kevorkian thought that the US military might be interested in using this technique to help wounded soldiers during a battle, but the Pentagon was not interested.[15]

In the 1980s, Kevorkian wrote a series of articles for the German journal Medicine and Law that laid out his thinking on the ethics of euthanasia.[9][16]

 In 1987, Kevorkian started advertising in Detroit newspapers as a physician consultant for "death counseling". His first public assisted suicide, of Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old woman diagnosed in 1989 with Alzheimer's disease, took place in 1990. Charges of murder were dropped on December 13, 1990, as there were, at that time, no laws in Michigan regarding assisted suicide.[17] In 1991, however, the State of Michigan revoked Kevorkian's medical license and made it clear that given his actions, he was no longer permitted to practice medicine or to work with patients.[18]

 According to his lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, Kevorkian assisted in the deaths of 130 terminally ill people between 1990 and 1998. In each of these cases, the individuals themselves allegedly took the final action which resulted in their own deaths. Kevorkian allegedly assisted only by attaching the individual to a euthanasia device that he had devised and constructed. The individual then pushed a button which released the drugs or chemicals that would end his or her own life. Two deaths were assisted by means of a device which delivered the euthanizing drugs intravenously. Kevorkian called the device a "Thanatron" ("Death machine", from the Greek thanatos meaning "death").[19] Other people were assisted by a device which employed a gas mask fed by a canister of carbon monoxide, which Kevorkian called the "Mercitron" ("Mercy machine").[20]

Criticism and Kevorkian's response

According to a report by the Detroit Free Press, 60% of the patients who committed suicide with Kevorkian's help were not terminally ill, and at least 13 had not complained of pain. The report further asserted that Kevorkian's counseling was too brief (with at least 19 patients dying less than 24 hours after first meeting Kevorkian) and lacked a psychiatric exam in at least 19 cases, 5 of which involved people with histories of depression, though Kevorkian was sometimes alerted that the patient was unhappy for reasons other than their medical condition. (In 1992, Kevorkian himself wrote that it is always necessary to consult a psychiatrist when performing assisted suicides because a person's "mental state is ... of paramount importance."[22])

The report also stated that Kevorkian failed to refer at least 17 patients to a pain specialist after they complained of chronic pain, and sometimes failed to obtain a complete medical record for his patients, with at least three autopsies of suicides Kevorkian had assisted with showing the person who committed suicide to have no physical sign of disease. Rebecca Badger, a patient of Kevorkian's and a mentally troubled drug abuser, had been mistakenly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The report also stated that Janet Adkins, Kevorkian's first patient, had been chosen without Kevorkian ever speaking to her, only with her husband, and that when Kevorkian first met Adkins two days before her assisted suicide he "made no real effort to discover whether Ms. Adkins wished to end her life," as the Michigan Court of Appeals put it in a 1995 ruling upholding an order against Kevorkian's activity.[22] According to The Economist: "Studies of those who sought out Dr. Kevorkian, however, suggest that though many had a worsening illness ... it was not usually terminal. Autopsies showed five people had no disease at all. ... Little over a third were in pain. Some presumably suffered from no more than hypochondria or depression."[23]

In response, Kevorkian's attorney Geoffrey Fieger published an essay stating, "I've never met any doctor who lived by such exacting guidelines as Kevorkian ... he published them in an article for the American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry in 1992. Last year he got a committee of doctors, the Physicians of Mercy, to lay down new guidelines, which he scrupulously follows."[22] However, Fieger stated that Kevorkian found it difficult to follow his "exacting guidelines" due to "persecution and prosecution", adding "[H]e's proposed these guidelines saying this is what ought to be done. These are not to be done in times of war, and we're at war."[22]

In a 2010 interview with Sanjay Gupta, Kevorkian stated an objection to the status of assisted suicide in Oregon, Washington, and Montana. Only in those three states is assisted suicide legal in the United States, and then only for terminally ill patients. To Gupta, Kevorkian stated, "What difference does it make if someone is terminal? We are all terminal."[24] In his view, a patient did not have to be terminally ill to be assisted in committing suicide, but did need to be suffering. However, he also said in that same interview that he declined four out of every five assisted suicide requests, on the grounds that the patient needed more treatment or medical records had to be checked.[25]



  1. ^ "how to pronounce Kevorkian". inogolo. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Schneider, Keith (June 3, 2011). "Dr. Jack Kevorkian Dies at 83; A Doctor Who Helped End Lives". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Wells, Samuel; Quash, Ben (2010). Introducing Christian Ethics. John Wiley and Sons. p. 329. ISBN 978-1-4051-5276-1.
  4. ^ Monica Davey. "Kevorkian Speaks After His Release From Prison". The New York Times. June 4, 2007.
  5. ^ Kevorkian, Jack (2009). glimmerIQs (Paperback). World Audience, Inc. ISBN 978-1-935444-88-6.
  6. ^ Nicol, Neal; Harry Wylie (2006). Between the Dead and the Dying. London: Satin Publications, Ltd. ISBN 1-904132-72-3.
  7. ^ Kevorkian, Jack (December 15, 2010). "Biography". [1]. Retrieved January 19, 2011.
  8. ^ Mark Schiofet (June 3, 2011). "Jack Kevorkian, Who Assisted Suicides, Dies at 83". Bloomberg. Retrieved July 6, 2011.
  9. ^ a b c "The Kevorian Verdict: A Chronology". Frontline. May 1996. PBS. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  10. ^ Chermak, Steven M.; Bailey, Frankie Y. (2007). Crimes and Trials of the Century. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 101–102. ISBN 0-313-34110-9.
  11. ^ Azadian, Edmond Y.; Hacikyan, Agop J.; Franchuk, Edward S. (1999). "History on the move: views, interviews and essays on Armenian issues". An Interview with Dr. Jack Kevorkian (Detroit: Wayne State University Press). p. 233. ISBN 0-8143-2916-0.
  12. ^ "Jack Kevorkian". The Daily Telegraph. June 3, 2011. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  13. ^ "Jack Kevorkian Biography". Biography.com. 2012. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  14. ^ Kevorkian, Jack (May - June 1959). "Capital Punishment or Capital Gain". The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 50 (1): 50–51.
  15. ^ a b Betzold, Michael (19 September 1993). "1993: Excerpt from 'Appointment with Doctor Death'". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
  16. ^ a b Lessenberry, Jack (July 1994). "Death becomes him". PBS.org. Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on August 6, 2003. Retrieved July 11, 2010.
  17. ^ "People v. Kevorkian; Hobbins v. Attorney General". Ascension Health. 1994. Archived from the original on September 8, 2003. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
  18. ^ "Kevorkian medical license revoked". Lodi News-Sentinel (Michigan). Associated Press. November 21, 1991. p. 8.
  19. ^ "The Kevorkian Verdict: The Thanatron". Frontline. May 1996. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  20. ^ Jackson, Nicholas (June 3, 2011). "Jack Kevorkian's Death Van and the Tech of Assisted Suicide". The Atlantic Monthly. TheAtlantic.com. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  21. ^ "Jacob 'Jack' Kevorkian Dies; Death With Dignity Proponent Remembered". medicalnewstoday.com. 2011 [last update]. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  22. ^ a b c d Cheyfitz, Kirk (March 3, 1997). "Suicide Machine, Part 1: Kevorkian rushes to fulfill his clients' desire to die". Detroit Free Press. Archived May 26, 2007.
  23. ^ "Jack Kevorkian, champion of voluntary euthanasia, died on June 3rd, aged 83". The Economist (webCitation.org). June 9, 2011. Archived from the original on June 26, 2011.
  24. ^ "Kevorian: "I have no regrets"". CNN. June 14, 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2011.
  25. ^ "'Dr. Death's' view on life". CNN. June 14, 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2011.
Taken from:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Kevorkian [16.04.2013]

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