AKA Dr. Death, Jack Kevorkian is a doctor brave enough to stand up for what's right and administer euthanasia to terminally ill patients suffering immense amounts of pain and mercifully end their lives without further pain.

Whereas I am against abortion, I don't believe in the "sanctity of life" argument. Whereas in abortion the life being ended, not neccesarily mercifully as seen in abortion methods, has not even begun, in euthanasia the life in question is at an end, without hope. Better end it now instead of letting it die out in pain.

Euthanasia should be a perfectly legal procedure, given there are safeguards against abuse. In Northern Australia, it required two seperate authorizations from specialists in the field of study the patient was suffering from. It has to be checked and rechecked. The procedure must be witnessed by the specialists and family to make it legal, and afterwards they must sign a document. I think that is safe enough.

However, given the current ignorance of the law, Jack Kevorkian has been arrested time and again for openly practicing his beliefs. I wonder if the legislature would think differently if they were writhing in incredible pain from some incurable disease.

Of all of the people involved in the "right to die" debate, Dr. Jack Kevorkian has been the most controversial, outspoken, and well-known figure. Although he was not the first physician to assist his patients with suicides, his determination to create a public debate on the issue has made his name almost synonymous with "physician assisted suicide." Some call him Dr. Death; others call him a hero. Just who is this feisty old man who has sparked so much controversy?

Jack Kevorkian was born on May 28, 1928, the son of Armenian immigrants. A creative and intelligent child, he graduated from the University of Michigan medical school in 1952. He specialized in pathology, the study of corpses to determine cause of death or disease. His slightly unhealthy obsession with the dead earned him the nickname "Doctor Death," a term the media, and especially his enemies, would eventually learn to embrace. His work with the dead and dying led to a relatively important article: his "The Fundus Oculi and the Determination of Death" documented his photography of the eyes of dying patients in an effort to determine a stage at which resuscitation would be impossible.

As if his early medical days weren’t strange enough, in 1958 Kevorkian, while studying about medical procedures of the ancients, came up with a plan to perform medical experiments on death penalty criminals. After one convict agreed to participate, Kevorkian got excited about his plan. He figured it could save both money and lives. He suspected that such research would help the medical community to gain some insight about the nature of the criminal mind. In the end, Kevorkian’s impractical plan gained him a little national publicity. The only group that supported him was an animal rights group that thought his plan might save animals from being tested instead of humans. Kevorkian was laughed out of the spotlight, and the embarrassed University of Michigan told him it was time to find a new job.

Kevorkian’s next research involved the transfusion of blood from cadavers into living people. After testing his theories on some corpses and personnel at his hospital, he tried to sell the idea to the Pentagon, thinking that it would be perfect to use corpse blood on soldiers who can’t wait for "living’ blood to arrive. Once again, Kevorkian’s plans were too radical and morbid to be accepted by mainstream medicine.

Throughout the late 1980s, Dr. Kevorkian studied about euthanasia. Instead of performing experiments on death row inmates, he hoped that terminally ill people would come forward wanting to be euthanized. He tried for several years to put together some kind of clinic where suicidal terminally ill people could go. Here they would be euthanized while Dr. Kevorkian would be performing experiments. All of his plans fell through once again, mostly because of the skepticism of others. After studying the practices of some suicide-assisting physicians in Holland, Kevorkian opted to try a more low-key, patient-centric approach, rather than having a full-fledged death clinic. Still, Kevorkian could not find sane and terminally ill patients that wanted to end their lives. He even took out carefully worded ads in magazines to try to gain some attention. It was only after his invention of the Thanatron ("death machine") that he was able to become "Doctor Death" to the world.

Dr. Kevorkian built the Thanatron out of $30 worth of spare parts from hardware stores and garage sales. Basically, the device was designed so that a weak patient could "pull the trigger" without a physician interfering. After the patient activates the machine, drugs flow into the patient, causing the patient to go into a deep coma. This activates a 60-second timer. After the timer is done, a lethal dose of potassium chloride stops the patient’s heart. The suffering patient dies the painless death of a heart attack during sleep.

On June 4, 1990, Kevorkian finally got the chance to test his Thanatron on a real human being. The patient was Janet Adkins, a member of the pro-euthanasia Hemlock Society. Although she was not terminally ill, she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She died in the back of Kevorkian’s 1968 Volkswagen van. A murder charge against Kevorkian was filed that was later dismissed.

Kevorkian continued helping suffering people commit suicide over the next three years. Carbon monoxide was used instead of the Thanatron in many of these suicides. Kevorkian’s team fought legal battles every step of the way. Finally, legislation banning assisted suicide in Michigan went into effect on March 30, 1999. Kevorkian’s medical license was also suspended. On August 4, Thomas Hyde, a 30 year-old man with ALS, was found dead in Kevorkian’s van. After helping with several additional suicides, Kevorkian was charged with assisted suicide and thrown in jail. While in jail, Kevorkian fasted, and he refused to pay the bail. In December, an Oakland County Circuit Court Judge reduces Kevorkian’s bail to $100 in exchange for the doctor’s word that he will not assist any more patients until the legality of his practice is determined.

After being acquitted on several charges, Kevorkian got his real wish on May 10, 1994. The Michigan Court of Appeals struck down the ban on assisted suicides, claiming that it was enacted unlawfully. Then in November, Oregon voters passed a referendum vote and made assisted suicide legal. Although there are many restrictions on the Death with Dignity Act, Oregon becomes the first state in the union to make assisted suicide legal. Currently, assisted suicide is legal only in Oregon, the Netherlands, Japan, Colombia, and part of Australia. However, between 1994 and 1997, legal hurdles made Oregon’s law symbolic only. Today, assisted suicide is legal, after a second referendum in 1997 gained 60% of the vote. Unfortunately for Kevorkian, Michigan’s suicide ban was ruled constitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court on December 13, 1994.

Over the next few years, Kevorkian’s legal battles continued, as did his assisted suicides. At one point he dressed up in colonial uniform to protest being tried under centuries-old common law. He is eventually acquitted of everything he is charged with, except for one case, which ends in a mistrial. On June 26, 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court delivers a blow to Kevorkian and his supporters by unanimously ruling that states have the right to outlaw physician assisted suicide.

Dr. Kevorkian’s most recent and most famous case thus far began in 1998 when CBS’ "60 Minutes" showed videotape (provided by Kevorkian) of Kevorkian giving ALS victim Thomas Youk a lethal injection. Unlike the hundreds of assisted suicides Kevorkian has taken part in, this was straightforward active euthanasia. The euthanasia was voluntary, but not triggered by the patient Youk. Kevorkian released the videotape because he wanted to force the issue on the courts. He also wanted to force it upon the minds of the public.

Three days after the video was aired, Kevorkian was charged with first-degree murder by the state of Michigan. He is also charged with assisted suicide and delivery of a controlled substance. Prosecutors later drop the suicide charge. Kevorkian decided to act as his own attorney, and he made threats to starve himself if he was sent to jail. Last year, Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder and delivery of a controlled substance in the death of Youk. He was sentenced to 10-25 years in prison, with a chance for parole after 6 years. Kevorkian will most likely appeal this verdict until he wins. Until that time, he remains in jail, convicted for the first time, and as controversial as ever.

Write to Dr. K!
Prisoner #284797
Kinross Correctional Facility
Kincheloe MI 49788 USA

Detroit area Ska/Punk band 'The Suicide Machines' originally called themselves 'Jack Kevorkian and the Suicide Machines' but for one reason or another they lost the Jack Kevorkian right before their first major label release. You can still find copies of that album (Destruction by Definition) that contain stickers depicting a faceless Kevorkian dancing around waving a syringe.

Kevorkian's lawyer is named Geoffery Fieger.

Though Kevorkian is well known (some would say notorious) for his activism in the area of euthanasia, he is also an artist of naive but compellingly awesome power. Oh, he also plays Jazz and is a composer, by the by.

As many of us do while in crisis, in the 1960s the deadly doctor enrolled in an adult education oil painting course in Pontiac, Michigan. He was at the time being forced to resign from his post at the University of Michigan as described elsewhere in this node. Over the years he produced eighteen oil paintings, almost all dealing with the subject of death. In 1985 he stored the paintings in Long Beach, California. In 1990, he asked the storage company to forward the oils to Michigan but due to a major snafu, the paintings, along with many of his compositions, were shipped to Australia where they dissapeared.

He resumed painting in 1993 and produced eight new paintings, most on the subject of death and dying as you would expect. The paintings are usually housed at the Ariana Gallery in Detroit, Michigan where you can buy poster reproductions. The collection has also toured to diverse sites to increase awareness of the doctor's work and raise funds. According to the owner of the gallery, Dr. Kevorkian:

"has no further artistic aspirations and he believes it unlikely that he will paint again. He does not enjoy the process and does not consider himself an artist. In fact, he disclaims the paintings as art."

In 2000, I had the opportunity to view his paintings at an exhibition held at the Armenian Library in Watertown, Massachussets. This was not a pleasurable experience. The paintings, though naive and primitive in execution, hit you like the proverbial ton of bricks with their unvarnished and blunt messages. In case the paintings had not beat you over the head hard enough, the Dr. provides detailed captions explaining what you are seeing. For example a painting entitled Nearer My God to Thee depicting a naked, flailed man clawing at the sides of a pit into which he is bein inexorably pulled with ripping bleeding fingernails, is captioned:

This depicts how most human beings feel about dying -- at least about their own deaths. Despite the solace of hypocritical religiosity and its seductive promise of an after-life of heavenly bliss. Most of us will do anything to thwart the inevitable victory of biological death. We contemplate and face it with great apprehension, profound fear, and terror. Sparing no financial or physical sacrifice, pleading wantonly and unashamedly, clutching any hope of salvation through medicine or prayer. How forbidding that dark abyss! How stupendous the yearning to dodge its gaping orifice. How inexorable the engulfment. Yet, below are the disintegrating hulks of those who have gone before; they have made the insensible transition and wonder what the fuss is all about. After all, how excruciating can nothingness be?
And so forth. Being a coward, this caption and the painting completely fucked me up for days, as it will no doubt do again now that I have reacquainted myself with it.

You may view the paintings at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kevorkian/aboutk/art/brotherhood.html, just make sure you have a stiff drink before you do so. Alternatively, you could listen to the Jazz flute album, A Very Still Life where he performs some of his compositions with the Morpheus Quintet which includes former members of the Brian Setzer orchestra and other accomplished musicians. The album was released in a limited pressing of 5,000 with cover art based on the namesake painting. A portion of the proceeds from the album goes to fund the building of an assisted suicide clinic. You can listen to a track of the album here: http://www.resist.pair.com/drjack.html


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