Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Jack Kevorkian

"Let's hope you feel better now."
  -- Dr. Jack Kevorkian

Murad Jacob "Jack" Kevorkian was born in Pontiac, Michigan on May 26, 1928.  He was the second of three children born to Armenian immigrants.

Kevorkian was a child prodigy.  By age 12, he had taught himself multiple languages, including German, Russian and Japanese.  He skipped the sixth grade entirely and went straight to junior high.

Around the same time, he was beginning to question his family's faith.  His mother had fled her home country following the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and young Jack questioned why God would have allowed such a thing to happen.  He stopped attending regular services with his family and never returned to the church. 

Kevorkian graduated from Pontiac Central High School when he was 17.  He enrolled in the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, graduating when he was just 22.  He then completed his residency in anatomical and clinical pathology, while simultaneously conducting his own research on blood transfusion.  Hmmmm.

By 1959, Kevorkian was working at the University of Michigan.  It was here that he first started making headlines for his controversial ideas regarding death.  In an article published in the Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, Kevorkian wrote "I propose that a prisoner condemned to death by due process of law be allowed to submit, by his own free choice, to medical experimentation under complete anaesthesia....as a form of execution in lieu of conventional methods prescribed by law."  His employers disagreed however, demanding that he recant his proposal.  Kevorkian refused, opting to leave the university instead. 

Kevorkian continued to advocate for experimenting on the condemned.  Following the Supreme Court's decision in Gregg v. Georgia (1976), which re-institutionalized the death penalty, he called for harvesting the organs of death row inmates after the sentence had been carried out.  As before, he failed to gain any public support for his plan.

By this time, Kevorkian was working as a pathologist at Pontiac General Hospital.  There, he continued his blood transfusion research, placing blood from the recently deceased into the currently living.  He thought it had battlefield applications and petitioned the U.S. military to consider his research, but the Pentagon wasn't interested.

Dr. Kevorkian and his Thanatron.
By 1987, Kevorkian was publicly advocating for assisted suicide.  He started placing ads in several Detroit newspapers, offering his services as a "death counselor."  His first client was 54-year-old Janet Adkins, a woman already in the throes of Alzheimer's disease.  With Kevorkian's assistance, she committed suicide in 1990, and the doctor was brought up on charges of murder.  Those charges were ultimately dropped however, as Michigan did not have any laws regarding assisted suicide.  However, the state took away his medical license.

To aid Adkins in her death, Kevorkian constructed a euthanasia device that he called a "Thanatron," from the Greek word thanos, or death.  Once hooked up to the device, Adkins pushed a button that released drugs and chemicals into her system, ultimately ending her life.  The Thanatron proved so successful that Kevorkian later developed another device he called the "Mercitron," or mercy machine.  This version required the user to place a gas mask over their face, one that would deliver carbon monoxide directly into the system.  Between these two devices, Kevorkian allegedly helped 130 terminally ill people shed their mortal coil throughout the 1990s.

During this time period, Kevorkian was tried for assisting suicides no less than four times.  He was acquitted of the first three, while the fourth ended in a mistrial.  All the while, the doctor was gaining publicity and support for the practice of euthanasia.

The doctor received the most exposure on November 22, 1998, during an interview on the CBS program 60 Minutes.  During the segment, viewers saw Kevorkian end the life of 52-year-old Thomas Youk, a man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.  Although Kevorkian's patients had always pushed the button themselves, this was the first time in which the doctor had done it for them, in front of millions of viewers no less.  As you can imagine, this would bring the law down on him as never before.  You can view that 60 Minutes piece in its entirety on YouTube.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Just three days after the broadcast, Kevorkian was charged with second-degree murder.  He was also charged with delivery of a controlled substance, given that his license to practice medicine had been revoked.  The trial had a different tone from his earlier three and Kevorkian had less public support than he had before.  It lasted only two days, after which the jury found him guilty (left).  He was sentenced to 10-25 years in prison.

Ultimately, Kevorkian served just eight years at a prison in Coldwater, Michigan.  He was paroled in May 2007 after it was disclosed that he was himself terminally ill.  He was given two years probation and one year to live.  He was also ordered not to kill anyone.

Kevorkian had a history of kidney disease and was diagnosed with cancer of the liver.  He was eventually hospitalized in May 2011 as his condition deteriorated.  Coupled with pneumonia, the cancer ultimately took his life on June 3.  He was 83 years old.  There were no attempts to keep him alive through artificial means and according to all sources, his death was painless.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian was buried in White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery in Troy, Michigan.

Location: Section H, #6178
Inscription: He Sacrificed Himself for Everyone's Rights

Rest in peace, Dr. Death.

  • In 1991, Kevorkian released his book Prescription: Medicide, detailing his beliefs on assisted suicide.  You can pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • Kevorkian was a jazz musician and musical composer.  In 1997, he released his album The Kevorkian Suite: A Very Still Life.  Seriously.  You can listen to it in its entirety on YouTube.

  • The good doctor was also an oil painter, who's work has been described as "grotesque and surreal."  But don't let that stop you from owning a piece for yourself.  Reproductions of his collection are available exclusively from the Ariana Gallery in Royal Oak, Michigan.  

    "Nearer My God to Thee"
    oil on canvas
    Dr. Jack Kevorkian

  • In 2008, Kevorkian launched his bid for the U.S. Congress, running as an Independent candidate in Michigan's 9th Congressional District.  When the votes were tallied, he earned a dismal 2.6 percent. 

  • In 2010, HBO produced a documentary on Kevorkian's life entitled You Don't Know Jack, which featured Al Pacino in the title role.  Check out the trailer on YouTube.

  • Kevorkian's death van is on permanent display at Zak Bagan's Haunted Museum in Las Vegas.  This blogger recommends taking the tour.

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