Dr. Kevorkian dies at 83, leaves assisted-suicide legacy

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted June 6, 2011

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Jack Kevorkian, MD, the controversial pathologist who said he took part in more than 130 assisted suicides, died June 3 in Royal Oak, Mich., at age 83. He reportedly was hospitalized in May for pneumonia and kidney problems.

Dr. Kevorkian was dubbed "Dr. Death" in the news media after coming into the national consciousness in 1990. That was when he first used his "suicide machine," set up in his rusted Volkswagen van in a secluded park north of Detroit, to inject lethal drugs into an Alzheimer's patient from Oregon who had sought his help in dying.

Dr. Kevorkian was tried repeatedly during the 1990s before being convicted of second-degree murder and delivery of a controlled substance in 1999. Earlier cases were thrown out in part because Michigan had no law against assisted suicide However, he was convicted after the state passed such a law (though an assisted-suicide count against him was dropped). Dr. Kevorkian also was stripped of his medical license.

Advocates for legal access to doctor-assisted suicide said Dr. Kevorkian helped their cause. Physician-assisted suicide is now legal in three states: Oregon, Montana and Washington.

"Dr. Kevorkian recognized the need for a public discussion of compassionate options at the end of life," said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of the Portland, Ore.-based Compassion & Choices, which supports legal physician-assisted suicide. "He drew the national and international spotlight to the desperation of patients whose current legal choices are inadequate. His actions raised public awareness and highlighted major public policy problems."

Even supporters had reservations about Dr. Kevorkian's publicity-seeking methods, which included numerous media interviews and public appearances at which he likened himself to Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, called doctors who didn't support him "hypocritic oafs," and called prosecutors and critics Nazis and religious fanatics. Coombs Lee dubbed him a "provocateur." In 2005, Dr. Kevorkian told MSNBC he had some regrets about how he handled himself, mainly that he didn't work more to help get assisted suicide legislation passed.

Dr. Kevorkian was released from prison in 2007 after serving eight years of a 10-to-25 year sentence. He unsuccessfully challenged Republican Rep. Joe Knollenberg as an independent candidate in Michigan's 9th Congressional District in 2008.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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