Jacob "Jack" Kevorkian (//; May 26, 1928 – June 3, 2011) 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 was often portrayed in the media with the name of "Dr. Death"; however, many consider him a hero,as he helped set the platform for reform. He famously said, "Dying is not a crime".
May 26, 1928
Pontiac, Michigan, U.S.
|Died||June 3, 2011
Royal Oak, Michigan, U.S.
|Cause of death||Thrombosis|
|Resting place||Troy, Michigan, U.S.|
|Other names||Dr. Death|
|Alma mater||University of Michigan (B.S., M.D.)|
|Occupation||Physician, painter, author, musician|
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 advice nor participate nor be present in the act of any type of suicide involving euthanasia to any other person; as well as neither promote nor talk about the procedure of assisted suicide.
As an oil painter and a jazz musician, Kevorkian marketed limited quantities of his visual and musical artwork to the public.
Early life and educationEdit
Kevorkian was born in Pontiac, Michigan, on May 26, 1928, to Armenian immigrants. His father, Levon, was born in the village of Passen, near Erzurum, and his mother, Satenig, was born in the village of Govdun, near Sivas. His father left Armenia in the Ottoman Empire and made his way to Pontiac in 1912, where he found work at an automobile foundry. Satenig fled the Armenian Genocide of 1915, finding refuge with relatives in Paris, and eventually reuniting with her brother in Pontiac. Levon and Satenig met through the Armenian community in their city, where they married and began their family. The couple had a daughter, Margaret, in 1926, followed by son Jack — and, lastly, the third child, Flora.
Kevorkian completed residency training in anatomical and clinical pathology and briefly conducted research on blood transfusion.
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.||”|
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.
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 U.S. military might be interested in using this technique to help wounded soldiers during a battle, but the Pentagon was not interested.
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. 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.
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"). 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").
Criticism and Kevorkian's responseEdit
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.") 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 euthanasia patient, had been chosen without Kevorkian's 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. 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."
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." However, Fieger stated that Kevorkian found it difficult to follow his "exacting guidelines" because of "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."
In a 2010 interview with Sanjay Gupta, Kevorkian stated an objection to the status of assisted suicide in Oregon, Washington, and Montana. At that time, only in those three states was 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." In his view, a patient did not have to be terminally ill to be assisted in committing suicide, but needed 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.
In 2011, disability rights and anti-legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia group Not Dead Yet spoke out against Kevorkian, citing potentially concerning sentiments he expressed in his published writing. For instance, on page 214 of Prescription: Medicide, the Goodness of Planned Death, Kevorkian wrote that assisting “suffering or doomed persons kill themselves” was “merely the first step, an early distasteful professional obligation...What I find most satisfying is the prospect of making possible the performance of invaluable experiments or other beneficial medical acts under conditions that this first unpleasant step can help establish — in a word obitiatry.” In a journal article, The last fearsome taboo: Medical aspects of planned death, Kevorkian also detailed anesthetizing, experimenting on and harvesting the organs of a disabled newborn as a token of "daring and highly imaginative research" that would be possible "beyond the constraints of traditional but outmoded, hopelessly inadequate, and essentially irrelevant ethical codes now sustained for the most part by vacuous sentimental reverence."
Kevorkian was a jazz musician and composer. The Kevorkian Suite: A Very Still Life was a 1997 limited-release CD of 5,000 copies from the 'Lucid Subjazz' label. It features Kevorkian on the flute and organ playing his own works with "The Morpheus Quintet". It was reviewed in Entertainment Weekly online as "weird" but "good-natured". As of 1997, 1,400 units had been sold. Kevorkian wrote all the songs but one; the album was reviewed in jazzreview.com as "very much grooviness" except for one tune, with "stuff in between that's worthy of multiple spins."
He was also an oil painter. His work tended toward the grotesque and macabre; he sometimes painted with his own blood, and had created pictures such as one "of a child eating the flesh off a decomposing corpse." Of his known works, six were made available in the 1990s for print release. The Ariana Gallery in Royal Oak, Michigan, is the exclusive distributor of Kevorkian's artwork. The original oil prints are not for release. Sludge metal band Acid Bath used his painting "For He is Raised" as the cover art for their 1996 album Paegan Terrorism Tactics.
In 2011, his paintings became the center of a legal entanglement between his sole heir and a Massachusetts museum.
Kevorkian was tried four times for assisting suicides between May 1994 to June 1997. With the assistance of Fieger, Kevorkian was acquitted three times. The fourth trial ended in a mistrial. The trials helped Kevorkian gain public support for his cause. After Oakland County prosecutor Richard Thompson lost a primary election to a Republican challenger, Thompson attributed the loss in part to the declining public support for the prosecution of Kevorkian and its associated legal expenses.
Conviction and imprisonmentEdit
On November 22, 1998, broadcast of CBS News' 60 Minutes, Kevorkian allowed the airing of a videotape he made on September 17, 1998, which depicted the voluntary euthanasia of Thomas Youk, 52, who was in the final stages of Lou Gehrig's disease. After Youk provided his fully informed consent (a sometimes complex legal determination made in this case by editorial consensus) on September 17, 1998, Kevorkian himself administered Thomas Youk a lethal injection. This was highly significant, as all of his earlier clients had reportedly completed the process themselves. During the videotape, Kevorkian dared the authorities to try to convict him or stop him from carrying out mercy killings. Youk's family described the lethal injection as humane, not murder.
On March 26, 1999, Kevorkian was charged with second-degree murder and the delivery of a controlled substance (administering the lethal injection to Thomas Youk). Because Kevorkian's license to practice medicine had been revoked eight years previously, he was not legally allowed to possess the controlled substance. As homicide law is relatively fixed and routine, this trial was markedly different from earlier ones that involved an area of law in flux (assisted suicide). Kevorkian discharged his attorneys and proceeded through the trial representing himself, a decision he later regretted. The judge ordered a criminal defense attorney to remain available at trial as standby counsel for information and advice. Inexperienced in law but persisting in his efforts to represent himself, Kevorkian encountered great difficulty in presenting his evidence and arguments. He was not able to call any witnesses to the stand as the judge did not deem the testimony of any of his witnesses relevant.
After a two-day trial, the Michigan jury found Kevorkian guilty of second-degree homicide. Judge Jessica Cooper sentenced Kevorkian to serve 10–25 years in prison and told him:
"This is a court of law and you said you invited yourself here to take a final stand. But this trial was not an opportunity for a referendum. The law prohibiting euthanasia was specifically reviewed and clarified by the Michigan Supreme Court several years ago in a decision involving your very own cases, sir. So the charge here should come as no surprise to you. You invited yourself to the wrong forum. Well, we are a nation of laws, and we are a nation that tolerates differences of opinion because we have a civilized and a nonviolent way of resolving our conflicts that weighs the law and adheres to the law. We have the means and the methods to protest the laws with which we disagree. You can criticize the law, you can write or lecture about the law, you can speak to the media or petition the voters."
In an MSNBC interview aired on September 29, 2005, Kevorkian said that if he were granted parole, he would not resume directly helping people die and would restrict himself to campaigning to have the law changed. On December 22, 2005, Kevorkian was denied parole by a board on the count of 7–2 recommending not to give parole.
Reportedly terminally ill with Hepatitis C, which he contracted while doing research on blood transfusions, Kevorkian was expected to die within a year in May 2006. After applying for a pardon, parole, or commutation by the parole board and Governor Jennifer Granholm, he was paroled for good behavior on June 1, 2007. He had spent eight years and two and a half months in prison.
Kevorkian was on parole for two years, under the conditions that he not help anyone else die, or provide care for anyone older than 62 or disabled. Kevorkian said he would abstain from assisting any more terminal patients with death, and his role in the matter would strictly be to persuade states to change their laws on assisted suicide. He was also forbidden by the rules of his parole from commenting about assisted suicide.
Activities after his release from prisonEdit
Kevorkian gave a number of lectures upon his release. He lectured at universities such as the University of Florida, Nova Southeastern University, and the University of California, Los Angeles. His lectures were not limited to the topic of euthanasia; he also discussed such topics as tyranny, the criminal justice system, politics, the Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Armenian culture. He appeared on Fox News Channel's Your World with Neil Cavuto on September 2, 2009, to discuss health care reform.
On April 15 and 16, 2010, Kevorkian appeared on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360°, Cooper asked, "You are saying doctors play God all the time?" Kevorkian said: "Of course. Anytime you interfere with a natural process, you are playing God." Director Barry Levinson and actors Susan Sarandon and John Goodman, who appeared in You Don't Know Jack, a film based on Kevorkian's life, were interviewed alongside Kevorkian. Kevorkian was again interviewed by Cavuto on Your World on April 19, 2010 regarding the movie and Kevorkian's world view. You Don't Know Jack premiered April 24, 2010 on HBO. The film premiered April 14 at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City. Kevorkian walked the red carpet alongside Al Pacino, who portrayed him in the film. Pacino received Emmy and Golden Globe awards for his portrayal, and personally thanked Kevorkian, who was in the audience, upon receiving both of these awards. Kevorkian stated that both the film and Pacino's performance "brings tears to my eyes – and I lived through it".
Congressional race 2008Edit
On March 12, 2008, Kevorkian announced plans to run for United States Congress to represent Michigan's 9th congressional district as an independent against eight-term congressman Joe Knollenberg (R-Bloomfield Hills), former Michigan Lottery commissioner and state senator Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township), Adam Goodman (L-Royal Oak) and Douglas Campbell (G-Ferndale). The race had already garnered national attention due to Democrats targeting the historically Republican district based in Oakland County, which Knollenberg barely won in 2006 against a little-known opponent, and which would suffer some of the worst brunt of the Great Recession due to declines in Detroit's automotive industry. Upon Kevorkian's entry into the race, one analyst viewed Kevorkian as a potential spoiler to Peters' candidacy.
Ultimately, Kevorkian received 8,987 votes (2.6% of the vote) in the election, in which Peters defeated the incumbent Knollenberg by a nine-percent margin. Peters would eventually serve three terms in Congress before making a successful run for the United States Senate.
Kevorkian taught himself German and Japanese.
Illness and deathEdit
Kevorkian had struggled with kidney problems for years. He was diagnosed with liver cancer, which "may have been caused by hepatitis C," according to his longtime friend Neal Nicol. Kevorkian was hospitalized on May 18, 2011, with kidney problems and pneumonia. Kevorkian's condition grew rapidly worse and he died from a thrombosis on June 3, 2011, eight days after his 83rd birthday, at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. According to his attorney, Mayer Morganroth, there were no artificial attempts to keep him alive and his death was painless. Kevorkian was buried in White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery in Troy, Michigan.
Judge Thomas Jackson, who presided over Kevorkian's first murder trial in 1994, commented that he wanted to express sorrow at Kevorkian's death and that the 1994 case was brought under "a badly written law" aimed at Kevorkian, but he attempted to give him "the best trial possible." Maria Silveira, a professor of internal medicine, said she became involved with palliative care partly because of the attention Kevorkian brought to the complex issue of unintended suffering, adding that he had a tremendous impact and fueled the public awareness of unintended suffering and the need to address it. Geoffrey Fieger, Kevorkian's lawyer during the 1990s, gave a speech at a press conference in which he stated: "Dr. Jack Kevorkian didn't seek out history, but he made history." Fieger said that Kevorkian revolutionized the concept of suicide by working to help people end their own suffering, because he believed physicians are responsible for alleviating the suffering of patients, even if that meant allowing patients to die. John Finn, medical director of palliative care at the Catholic St. John's Hospital, said Kevorkian's methods were unorthodox and inappropriate. He added that many of Kevorkian's patients were isolated, lonely, and potentially depressed, and therefore in no state to mindfully choose whether to live or die. Derek Humphry, author of the suicide handbook Final Exit, said Kevorkian was "too obsessed, too fanatical, in his interest in death and suicide to offer direction for the nation." In a 2015 Retro Report story about Kevorkian's legacy and the Right to Die movement, journalist Jack Lessenberry said Kevorkian "got a national debate going, which I think he then helped stifle by his own outrageous actions." Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, said that Kevorkian "was a major historical figure in modern medicine." The Catholic Church in Detroit said Kevorkian left behind a "deadly legacy" that denied scores of people their right to humane deaths. Philip Nitschke, founder and director of right-to-die organization Exit International, said that Kevorkian "moved the debate forward in ways the rest of us can only imagine. He started at a time when it was hardly talked about and got people thinking about the issue. He paid one hell of a price, and that is one of the hallmarks of true heroism."
The epitaph on Kevorkian's tombstone reads, "He sacrificed himself for everyone's rights."
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† = Later heavily revised and incorporated into glimmerIQs
†† = Later incorporated in abridged form into glimmerIQs
* = Revised and distributed in 2009 by World Audience, Inc.
- Selected journal articles
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Thompson, the first Oakland County prosecutor in 24 years to lose an election, agreed that the controversy clearly was an issue in his defeat.
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- "Jack Kevorkian collected news and commentary". The New York Times.
- "Papa" Prell Radio interview with Kevorkian. (MP3, 15 minutes). Prell archive at Radio Horror Hosts website.
- "Court TV Case Files — Trial coverage.". CourtTV.com. Archived from the original on February 8, 2007. Retrieved August 3, 2010.
- "The Kevorkian Verdict: The Life and Legacy of the Suicide Doctor" Frontline; PBS.org — with timeline and other info.
- Kevorkian's Art Work Frontline; PBS.org.
- "Unsung American-Armenian Hero Kevorkian Coming Home To Die". James Donahue website. tripod.com. May 2007. Archived from the original on June 8, 2007.
- Kevorkian on law and the constitution during an appearance at Harvard Law School (Harvard Law Record)
- Michigan Department of Corrections record for Jack Kevorkian
- 2008 Official Michigan General Candidate Listing. Michigan.org. November 25, 2008.
- Jack Kevorkian
- Jack Kevorkian to speak at UCLA, hosted by the UCLA Armenian Students' Association and the Armenian American Medical Society of California
- Jack Kevorkian at Find a Grave