In the latter phase of his life, Kevorkian campaigned tirelessly to legalize physician-assisted suicide — a subject about which he was intensely passionate (too passionate, some believed) and even served eight years in prison for “acts of euthanasia.”
From 1990 to 2000, Jack Kevorkian was arrested many, many times for helping more than 100 patients commit suicide. He used injections, carbon monoxide, and his now-infamous “suicide machine,” which he hammered together from scraps for approximately $30.
“Those he aided had terminal conditions such as multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and malignant brain tumors. When asked in a 2010 interview about how it felt to take a patient’s life, Dr. Kevorkian said, ‘I didn’t do it to end a life. I did it to end the suffering the patient’s going through. The patient’s obviously suffering — what’s a doctor supposed to do, turn his back?’
“Dying, he believed, should be an intimate and dignified process, something that many terminally ill people are denied, he said.
“He garnered a fair amount of support from other medical practitioners, although most thought he was an extremist. In 1995, a group of doctors in Michigan publicly voiced their support for Dr. Kevorkian’s philosophy, stating that they supported a ‘merciful, dignified, medically assisted termination of life.’
“Shortly after, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that many doctors in Oregon and Michigan supported some form of physician-assisted suicide in certain cases.
“One of his greatest victories occurred in March 1996 when a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled that mentally competent, terminally ill adults have a constitutional right to die with the aid of medical experts and family members. It was the first federal endorsement of its kind” (source).
Arguably, Jack Kevorkian’s lasting legacy will be in the fact that he (with the invaluable help of his smart and charismatic lawyer Mayer Morganroth) so thoroughly raised the world’s awareness about euthanasia, and I, for one, was a supporter of him: obviously, if we each possess the right to our own life — and we do — we also (therefore) possess the corollary right to end that life when we choose.
Death, where is thy sting?
Jack Kevorkian, MD, jazz musician, oil-painter, euthanasianist: May 26, 1928 – June 3, 2011