Paintings by Jack Kevorkian
An exhibition of artwork by the late Dr. Kevorkian. / Image: hragv/Flickr/CC BY-ND

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the Michigan Pathologist who became an advocate for assisted suicide, died Friday morning. Kevorkian, often labeled “Dr. Death” by the press, helped more than 100 terminally ill people end their own lives between 1990 and 1999. Kevorkian was 83 years old.

A peaceful end

Kevorkian died at about 2:30 a.m. at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. He was hospitalized for kidney and respiratory problems. Present were his niece and his attorney and friend Mayer Morganroth.

“It was peaceful,” Morganroth told the press. He said nurses played music by Bach, Kevorkian’s favorite composer, before he died. There are no plans for a memorial service.

An interest in assisted suicide

Kevorkian, born in Detroit in 1928, graduated from the University of Michigan in 1952. Later, he developed an interest in assisted suicide for terminally ill patients who were suffering. He viewed assisted suicide as a legitimate medical need. In 1990 he developed a “suicide machine,” which dripped lethal drugs and had a trigger patients used to control it. Janet Adkins, 54, of Portland, Ore., an Alzheimer’s sufferer, was the first to use the device.

Legal action

Kevorkian admitted to being present at 130 assisted suicides between 1990 and 1999. He escapedĀ  legal efforts to stop him for nearly a decade. His first three trials ended in acquittal, and a fourth was a mistrial. In 1995, however, he was stripped of his medical license.

In 1998 Kevorkian assisted in the death of Thomas Youk, who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease. The event was videotaped and aired on the CBS program, “60 Minutes.” That led to the 1999 trial, in which he came to court in costumes, compared himself to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and called doctors who didn’t support him “hypocrite oafs.” That trial eventually landed him in prison for second-degree murder.

Released from prison

Kevorkian served eight years of his 10 to 25 year sentence and was release on June 1, 2007. He was suffering from Hepatitis C, diabetes and other medical issues. He also signed an affidavit promising not to assist in any more suicides.

Much public debate

Kevorkian remains a controversial figure, with many supporters who believe he provided a needed service. He also had detractors who found him irresponsible and publicity-seeking.

One critic, Tina Allerellie, claims her 34-year-old sister, who sought out Kevorkian’s help in 1997, was depressed but could have lived many more years with her multiple sclerosis.

Congressional bid

In 2008, Kevorkian ran for congress on an independent ticket and received 2.7 percent of the votes. He said our “corrupt” party system “has to be completely overhauled from the bottom up.”

Movies renew interest

Kevorkian returned to the public eye in 2010 when HBO aired a documentary on his life called “Kevorkian.” A biographical movie followed, “You Don’t Know Jack” with Al Pacino, who won an Emmy and Golden Globe for playing Kevorkian.

Pacino praised Kevorkian in his Emmy acceptance speech, saying it was a pleasure to “portray someone as brilliant and interesting and unique.”

Still illegal in most states

Despite the attention he brought to the subject, only Washington, Oregon and Montana have approved physician-assisted suicide legislation.


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‘You Don’t Know Jack’ trailer

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