Jack Kevorkian, Assisted Suicide Doctor, Dies

Nicknamed "Doctor Death," Kevorkian claims he actively helped 130 people to die.

THE GIST

Jack Kevorkian, the doctor who rose to prominence in the 1990s for helping patients commit suicide, has died.

Kevorkian spent more than eight years in jail for the murder of a man whose videotaped assisted suicide was aired on national television.

Though controversial, Kevorkian helped convince many of the need for a right-to-die.

Assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, whose controversial tactics earned him the nickname "Doctor Death," has died at the age of 83, hospital officials said Friday.

Kevorkian forced the United States to confront the ethical issues surrounding how best to treat the pain and suffering of the terminally ill when he went public with his suicide machines in 1990 and the videos of his patients begging him to help them die.

Kevorkian, who spent more than eight years in jail for the murder of a man whose videotaped assisted suicide was aired on national television, claims he actively helped 130 people to die.

"I have no regrets, none whatsoever," he told CNN in an interview last year.

He had been hospitalized with kidney problems, his attorney said last month.

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"I can confirm to you that Jack Kevorkian died," Brian Bierley, a spokesman for William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, told AFP Friday.

The desperation that drove dozens of dying people to travel to Michigan to be hooked up to his "mercy" machine -- sometimes in motels, sometimes in Kevorkian's Volkswagen van -- helped convince many of the need for a right-to-die.

It also led to an expansion of the use of hospice care where the terminally ill can have more control over their final days and shift treatment away from medical intervention and towards pain management.

"Jack Kevorkian, faults and all, was a major force for good in this society," Jack Lessenberry, a prominent Michigan journalist who closely covered Kevorkian's one-man campaign, told the New York Times. "He forced us to pay attention to one of the biggest elephants in society's living room: the fact that today vast numbers of people are alive who would rather be dead, who have lives not worth living."

But Kevorkian's antics alienated others and fueled criticism.

He dropped bodies off at hospitals and dumped them in parks and abandoned buildings. He brandished the kidneys of a man he'd helped die during a 1998 press conference, saying "first come, first served," a reference to organ donation.

"My ultimate aim is to make euthanasia a positive experience," he told the New York Times in 1990 after performing his first assisted suicide with Janet Adkins, a teacher from Oregon who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. "I'm trying to knock the medical profession into accepting its responsibilities, and those responsibilities include assisting their patients with death."

The American Medical Association in 1995 urged Michigan's attorney general to put a stop to Kevorkian, calling him "a reckless instrument of death" who "poses a great threat to the public" and "perverts the idea of the caring and committed physician."

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Then he taped himself actually injecting drugs into ALS patient Thomas Youk -- even though he had been stripped of his medical license -- and sent a copy to CBS's 60 Minutes.

Critics called it a snuff film. The judge overseeing the case accused Kevorkian of arrogance and disrespect for society.

Kevorkian was released from jail in 2007 after agreeing not to participate in any more assisted suicides.

His campaign to legalize physician assisted suicide has had limited success.

While his native Michigan rejected a proposal shortly before he went to trial, the state of Oregon passed the Death With Dignity Act in 1997 and the state of Washington followed suit in 2008.

Some 525 patients in Oregon and 135 in Washington have died after ingesting lethal doses of medication prescribed by their doctors since the laws were enacted, state records show.

Doctor-assisted suicide emerged as the most controversial cultural issue in Gallup's 2011 values and beliefs poll which was released Tuesday, with Americans divided 45 percent versus 48 percent over whether it is morally acceptable or morally wrong.

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