June 3, 2011

Dr Kevorkian is dead

HEALTH - Doctor Jack Kevorkian, the famed euthanasia doctor and activist who believed deathly ill people have the right to choose the time of their own death, has died at the age of 83 after a short illness.

Kevorkian spurred on the international right-to-die debate with a homemade suicide machine that helped end the lives of dozens of deathly-sick people.

Kevorkian died at approx. 2:30 AM this morning at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. He had been hospitalized since May with pneumonia and kidney problems. He did NOT use assisted suicide.

The retired pathologist and doctor, who claimed to have helped 130 people commit suicide using lethal injections during the 1990s, was both revered and reviled. You either loved him or hated him.

Likened to Martin Luther King, Mahandas Gandhi, Adolf Hitler and other famous people of both good and ill repute, Kevorkian was a crusader for his cause. He called prosecutors Nazis and his critics religious fanatics, burned state orders against him, called doctors who didn’t support him “hypocritic oafs” and challenged authorities to stop him or make his actions legal.

During the past 20 years Kevorkian has spend much of life trying to convince people that the "right to die" when deathly ill is a moral cause because it puts an end to the suffering and is a merciful death.

Nicknamed “Dr. Death” Kevorkian catapulted into public consciousness in 1990 when he used his homemade “suicide machine” in his rusted Volkswagen van to inject lethal drugs into an Alzheimer’s patient who sought Kevorkian's help.

For 9 years Kevorkian escaped authorities’ attempts to stop him. His first four trials resulted in three acquittals and one mistrial. Murder charges were thrown out because Michigan at the time had no law against assisted suicide. The laws were later changed just so they could charge and convict Kevorkian.

Kevorkian’s final goal was to establish “obitoriums” where people would go to die, similar to the one in the film "Soylent Green" (but without the cannibalism). Doctors there could harvest organs which could then be used to help save the lives of others. Kevorkian called this the “entirely ethical spinoffs” of suicide, something he wrote in his 1991 book “Prescription: Medicide — The Goodness of Planned Death.”

In September 1998, Kevorkian videotaped himself injecting Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old with Lou Gehrig’s disease, with lethal drugs. The tape was sent to “60 Minutes” and was later a key piece of evidence in convicting Kevorkian.

Kevorkian had hoped to show the world that its time to make euthanasia legal, but instead prosecutors quickly responded with a first-degree murder charge. Defending himself, Kevorkian told the court his actions were “a medical service for an agonized human being.”

In his closing argument, Kevorkian told jurors that some acts “by sheer common sense are not crimes.”

“Just look at me,” Kevorkian said. “Honestly now, do you see a criminal? Do you see a murderer?”

He later appealed his murder conviction twice but was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court twice. In 2002 Kevorkian argued that his prosecution was unconstitutional, and in 2004 Kevorkian claimed he had ineffective representation.

Kevorkian was freed in June 2007 after serving eight years of a 10-to-25-year sentence. He was suffering from hepatitis C, diabetes and other problems, and he promised in affidavits that he would not assist in a suicide if he was released.

Family members of people Kevorkian helped to euthanize say they continue to support him and his work. For those who supported him he will be dearly missed. For those that did not, they seem to be hypocritically happy that he is dead.

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