Dr. Jacob Kevorkian: Father to a Deadly Legacy

Jacob "Jack" Kevorkian, an American pathologist better known as "Doctor Death".

Jacob “Jack” Kevorkian, an American pathologist, died Friday June 3rd in William Beaumont Hospital at 83 years old.

Kevorkian left behind no children, but he did father a legacy.

Kevorkian’s name is now indisputably synonymous with assisted suicide. “Doctor Death,” as the media came to call him, claimed to have aided in the process of ending the lives of 130 people between the years of 1990 to 1999.

Kevorkian was a vocal and public supporter of assisted suicide. In 1987, he ran an ad in a Detroit newspaper advertising as a physician consultant for “death counseling”. Kevorkian’s license to practice medicine was revoked in 1991 after his role in the assisted suicide of Janet Adkins, who was a fifty-four year old Alzheimer’s patient, was publicized.

In 1995, The American Medical Association appealed to Michigan's attorney general to end Kevorkian’s deadly practices, labeling him "a reckless instrument of death" who "poses a great threat to the public."

Kevorkian defended his actions, as he once stated, "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?"

Kevorkian created two instruments of assisted suicide: the Thanatron, Greek for “Instrument of Death,” and the Mercitron, which is simply the word “mercy” merged with “tron”.

The Thanatron is basically an automated drip hooked up to an intravenous needle. The procedure would begin with the patient triggering an injection of the potent sedative sodium thiopental, which would put the patient to sleep. Shortly after this point, the falling of the unconscious patient’s arm would signal to the device to switch to potassium chloride, which would stop the patient’s heart. Death would generally take less than two minutes and would occur while the patient was unconscious. The Mercitron was little more than a mask hooked up to carbon monoxide which the patients would breathe in.

Kevorkian was actually charged with murder four separate times but was acquitted three times, and the fourth trial ended in a mistrial. It would not be until he made a videotape of the euthanasia of Thomas Youk and submitted the tape to be broadcasted by 60 Minutes on the November 22, 1998 that Kevorkian was finally brought to trial and convicted of Second Degree Murder.

The difference from the other trials was that Kevorkian was shown in the tape to be the one to administer the lethal injection, as opposed to Youk doing it himself, and Kevorkian was charged with Second Degree Murder on March 26, 1999. He was convicted shortly thereafter and sentenced to ten to twenty-five years in prison, of which he did eight years.

Kevorkian’s home state of Michigan rejected a proposal to legalize assisted suicide, but Oregon passed the Death With Dignity Act in 1994, and Washington did the same in 2008.

State records show that since the laws have been enacted, 525 terminally ill individuals in Oregon and 135 in Washington have chosen to die by consuming fatal doses of drugs prescribed by their physicians.

Other countries which have legalized euthanasia in some form are Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

So, where do we go from here?

While the public’s feelings toward Kevorkian differ, we as human beings can’t help but undergo a tug at our collective conscience concerning the idea of a loved one or a patient suffering; even though the law and many mainstream religions state that murder is immoral, it is in our nature to sympathize.

Yes, most of us have been there—a loved one is sick, doctors have done everything they can but there is nothing left to be done, and death is imminent…but still, our loved one lives and suffers, for what may be months or even years. Even if you would never consider making such a drastic choice to end their suffering as to perform an assisted suicide, you can’t help but form a solid stance either for or against it in such a circumstance.

No matter what your stance, however, there is no correct answer according to our culture at this moment. Gallup’s 2011 Values and Beliefs poll showed that Americans are divided almost in half—45% versus 48%—on the issue of whether doctor assisted suicide is morally acceptable.

So half of the country would give you a pat on the back for defiantly claiming you would rather see your loved one get the “dignified” death he or she deserves, but the other half of the country would deem you a murderer, and condone you for traveling down the slippery slope to genocide.

Kevorkian stated time and time again, “dying is not a crime”…but murder is. So where do we draw the line?