Jack Kevorkian

Jack Kevorkian

Jack Kevorkian at UCLA's Royce Hall, January 15, 2011.
Born May 26, 1928(1928-05-26)
Pontiac, Michigan, U.S.
Died June 3, 2011(2011-06-03) (aged 83)
Royal Oak, Michigan, U.S.
Cause of death Thrombosis
Nationality American
Education Pontiac Central High School
Years active 1948 to 2011
Known for Influencing euthanasia debate worldwide
Profession Physician, painter, author, and musician
Institutions Henry Ford Hospital
University of Michigan Medical Center
Saratoga General Hospital
Specialism Euthanasia Medicine
Research Euthanasia and Painless Death

Jacob "Jack" Kevorkian (play /kɨˈvɔrkiən/;[1] May 26, 1928 – June 3, 2011[2]), commonly known as "Dr. Death", was an American pathologist, euthanasia activist, painter, composer and instrumentalist. He is best known for publicly championing a terminal patient's right to die via physician-assisted suicide; he said he assisted at least 130 patients to that end. He famously said, "dying is not a crime".[3]

Beginning in 1999, Kevorkian served eight years of a 10-to-25-year prison sentence for second-degree murder. 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.


Early life

Kevorkian was born in Pontiac, Michigan 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.[5] His father moved from Turkey in 1912 and made his way to Pontiac, 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 Jacob — who later earned the nickname "Jack" from an American teacher who misread the birth certificate[6] — and, lastly, the third child, a daughter, Flora.[7] Kevorkian, who taught himself German and Japanese,[8] graduated from Pontiac Central High School with honors in 1945, at the age of 17. In 1952, he graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.[9][10][11] Kevorkian never married.[12]


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.[13][14]

Kevorkian started advertising in Detroit newspapers in 1987 as a physician consultant for "death counseling". His first public assisted suicide was in 1990, of Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old woman diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1989. He was charged with murder, but charges were dropped on December 13, 1990 as there were, at that time, no laws in Michigan regarding assisted suicide.[15] However, in 1991 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.[16] Between 1990 and 1998, Kevorkian assisted in the deaths of 130 terminally ill people, according to his lawyer Geoffrey Fieger. 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 made. 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 mechanically through an I.V. Kevorkian called it a "Thanatron" (death machine).[17] Other people were assisted by a device which employed a gas mask fed by a canister of carbon monoxide which was called "Mercitron" (mercy machine).[18]

Criticism and Kevorkian's Response

My aim in helping the patient was not to cause death. My aim was to end suffering. It's got to be decriminalized.

Jack Kevorkian[19]

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." [20]) 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.[20] Furthermore, according to the 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."[21]

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."[20] 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."[20]

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."[22] 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.[23]

Art career

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".[24] As of 1997, 1,400 units had been sold.[24] 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."[25]

He was also an oil painter. His work tended toward the grotesque; he sometimes painted with his own blood, and had created pictures such as one "of a child eating the flesh off a decomposing corpse."[14] 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.[26] Sludge metal band Acid Bath used his painting "For He is Raised" as the cover art for their 1996 album Paegan Terrorism Tactics.[27]

In 2011, his paintings became the center of a legal entanglement between his sole heir and a museum.[28]


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.[2] The trials helped Kevorkian gain public support for his cause. After Oakland County prosecutor Richard Thompson lost a primary election to a Republican challenger,[29] Thompson attributed the loss in part to the declining public support for the prosecution of Kevorkian and its associated legal expenses.[30]

Conviction and imprisonment

On the November 22, 1998 broadcast of 60 Minutes, Kevorkian allowed the airing of a videotape he had made on September 17, 1998, which depicted the voluntary euthanasia of Thomas Youk, 52, who was in the final stages of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. 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.

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).[9] 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.[2] 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.[31]

After a two day trial, the Michigan jury found Kevorkian guilty of second-degree homicide.[2] 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.

Kevorkian was sent to a prison in Coldwater, Michigan to serve his sentence.[32] After his conviction (and subsequent losses on appeal) Kevorkian was denied parole repeatedly until 2007.[33]

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.[34]

Reportedly terminally ill with Hepatitis C, which he contracted while doing research on blood transfusions,[35] 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.[36][37]

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.[38] 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.[39][40]

Activities after his release from prison

Jack Kevorkian answering questions at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with lawyer Mayer Morganroth (right) and former Foreign Minister of Armenia, Raffi Hovannisian (left)

Kevorkian gave a number of lectures upon his release. He lectured at universities such as the University of Florida,[41] Nova Southeastern University,[42] and the University of California, Los Angeles.[43] His lectures have not been limited to the topic of euthanasia; he has 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°,[44] Anderson 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."[45] 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.[46] 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.[47] 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".[48]

2008 Congressional race

On March 12, 2008, Kevorkian announced plans to run for United States Congress to represent Michigan's 9th congressional district against eight-term congressman Joe Knollenberg (R-Bloomfield Hills), Central Michigan University Professor Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township), Adam Goodman (L-Royal Oak) and Douglas Campbell. (G-Ferndale). Kevorkian ran as an independent and received 8,987 votes (2.6% of the vote).[49]


Kevorkian had struggled with kidney problems for years.[50] He had recently been diagnosed with liver cancer, which "may have been caused by hepatitis C," according to his longtime friend Neal Nicol.[51] Kevorkian was hospitalized on May 18, 2011, with kidney problems and pneumonia.[2] Kevorkian's conditions 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.[2] According to his attorney, Mayer Morganroth, there were no artificial attempts to keep him alive and his death was painless.[51] Judge Thomas Jackson, who presided over Kevorkian's first murder trial in 1994, commented that he wanted to express sorrow at Kevorkian's passing and that the 1994 case was brought under "a badly written law" aimed at Kevorkian, but he tried to give him "the best trial possible". Kevorkian was buried in White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery Troy, Michigan.[52]


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. "Dr. Jack Kevorkian didn’t seek out history, but he made history," she said.[53] John Finn, medical director of palliative care at the Catholic[54] St. John’s Hospital, said Kevorkian's methods were unorthodox and inappropriate.[53] Geoffrey Fieger, Kevorkian's lawyer in the 1990s, 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.[53] 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."[55] Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, said Kevorkian “was a major historical figure in modern medicine."[53] The Catholic Church in Detroit said Kevorkian left behind a "deadly legacy" that denied scores of people their right to humane deaths.[56] Philip Nitschke, founder and director of right-to-die organisation 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."[57]

Selected publications

  • Kevorkian, Jack (1959). The Story of Dissection. Philosophical Library. ISBN 9781258077464. 
  • Kevorkian, Jack (1960). Medical Research and the Death Penalty: A Dialogue. Vantage Books. ISBN 9780960203017. 
  • Kevorkian, Jack (1966). Beyond Any Kind of God. Philosophical Library. ISBN 9780802208477. 
  • Kevorkian, Jack (1978). Slimmericks and the Demi-Diet. Penumbra, Inc. ISBN 978-0960203000. 
  • Kevorkian, Jack (1991). Prescription: Medicide, the Goodness of Planned Death. Prometheus Books. ISBN 9780879758721. 
  • Kevorkian, Jack (2004). glimmerIQs. Penumbra, Inc. ISBN 9780960203079.  *
  • Kevorkian, Jack (2005). Amendment IX: Our Cornucopia of Rights. Penumbra, Inc. ISBN 09602030IX. 
  • Kevorkian, Jack (2010). When the People Bubble POPs. World Audience, Inc. ISBN 9781935444916. 

† = Later incorporated into glimmerIQs

* = Revised and distributed in 2009 through World Audience, Inc.

Journal articles

See also


  1. ^ "how to pronounce Kevorkian". inogolo. http://inogolo.com/pronunciation/d1097/Jack_Kevorkian. Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  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. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/04/us/04kevorkian.html. Retrieved June 3, 2011. 
  3. ^ Wells, Samuel; Quash, Ben (2010). Introducing Christian Ethics. John Wiley and Sons. p. 329. ISBN 9781405152761. 
  4. ^ Monica Davey. "Kevorkian Speaks After His Release From Prison". The New York Times. June 4, 2007.
  5. ^ Kevorkian, Jack (2009) (Paperback). glimmerIQs. 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]. http://thekevorkianpapers.com/about/biography. Retrieved 2011-01-19. 
  8. ^ Mark Schiofet (2011). "Jack Kevorkian, Who Assisted Suicides, Dies at 83". Bloomberg. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-03/jack-kevorkian-assisted-suicide-advocate-dies-at-83.html. Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  9. ^ a b "Chronology of Dr. Jack Kevorkian's Life and Assisted Suicide Campaign". Frontline. WGBH. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kevorkian/chronology.html. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  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. Wayne State University Press. p. 233. ISBN 0-8143-2916-0. http://books.google.com/books?id=KGciVUhpzXUC&lpg=PP1&ots=e4YIOxk9XV&dq=History%20on%20the%20move%3A%20views%2C%20interviews%20and%20essays%20on%20Armenian%20issues.&pg=PA233#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  12. ^ Telegraph obituary
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  24. ^ a b Essex, Andrew (December 26, 1997). "Death Mettle". Entertainment Weekly.
  25. ^ "Featured Artist: Jack Kevorkian and Morpheus Quintet – CD Title: A Very Still Life". JazzReview.com.
  26. ^ Ariana Gallery (1995). "Ariana Gallery". (Press release). Frontline; PBS.org; PBS Online. Retrieved 2010-08-03.
  27. ^ "Acid Bath – Paegan Terrorism Tactics Remastered, Reissued". Brave Words. August 10, 2010. http://www.bravewords.com/news/144225. Retrieved 2011-06-04. 
  28. ^ Martindale, Mike (2011 [last update]). "Metro and State | Suit to seek art of Dr. Death | The Detroit News". detnews.com. http://www.detnews.com/article/20111021/METRO/110210386/1409/Suit-to-seek-art-of-Dr.-Death. Retrieved November 10, 2011. 
  29. ^ "Prosecutor has last shot at Dr. Death". Sun Journal (Lewiston Maine): p. 3A. November 1, 1996. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=HyYgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=7GoFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5003,11529. 
  30. ^ Davis, Robert (August 8, 1996). "TWA probe could turn toward wreckage today/Postal Changes/ Assisted Suicide". USA Today. p. 3A. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/USAToday/access/16341398.html?dids=16341398:16341398&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&type=current&date=Aug+08%2C+1996&author=Ron+Franklin%3B+Tom+Curley%3B+Robert+Davis&pub=USA+TODAY+%28pre-1997+Fulltext%29&desc=TWA+probe+could+turn+toward+wreckage+today. Retrieved 2010-08-03. "Thompson, the first Oakland County prosecutor in 24 years to lose an election, agreed that the controversy clearly was an issue in his defeat." 
  31. ^ Williams, Marie Higgins (2000), Pro Se Criminal Defendant, Standby Counsel, and the Judge: A Proposal for Better-Defined Roles, The, 71 U. Colo. L. Rev., p. 789, http://heinonlinebackup.com/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/ucollr71&section=34 
  32. ^ Jessica Cooper (April 14, 1999). "Statement from Judge to Kevorkian". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/04/14/us/statement-from-judge-to-kevorkian.html. 
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