(AFP) – Jun 3, 2011
DETROIT, Michigan — The American pathologist, Jack Kevorkian, dubbed "Doctor Death" for helping dozens of terminally-ill people to commit suicide, died Friday at the age of 83 in a Michigan hospital.
"It was peaceful, he didn't feel a thing," his attorney Mayer Morganroth said of Kevorkian, who had been hospitalized with kidney and heart problems.
The assisted-suicide advocate apparently died after a blood clot from his leg broke free and lodged in his heart.
There were no artificial attempts to keep Kevorkian alive, said Morganroth, who was with Kevorkian's niece Ava Janus at the bedside. There are no plans for a public memorial.
Kevorkian, who claims he actively helped 130 people to die, spent more than eight years in jail for the murder of a man whose videotaped assisted suicide was aired on national television.
Kevorkian's suicide machines and videos of patients begging him to help them die forced the United States to confront the ethical issues surrounding how best to treat the pain and suffering of the terminally ill.
"I have no regrets, none whatsoever," he told CNN in an interview last year, of his decision to go public with his methods and his suicide machines in 1990.
The desperation that drove dozens of dying people to travel to Michigan to be hooked up to his "mercy" machines -- 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.
But Kevorkian's antics alienated others and fueled intense 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 to 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."
He was charged with murder four times, only to have three juries acquit him and one case collapse in mistrial.
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 in 1998.
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 but he did not fade from public view.
Al Pacino delivered an Emmy Award-winning performance as Kevorkian in the 2010 HBO biopic "You Don't Know Jack."
"He turned away the vast majority of people who came to him, he didn't take money for what he did, and he did not see these patients as people he was killing," Pacino told the New York Times before the film's premiere.
"He saw them as people whose pain he could relieve."
Kevorkian's campaign to legalize doctor-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.
Yet 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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