Jack Kevorkian

Medical Pathologist / Activist / Convict

Born: 28 May 1928
Died: 3 June 2011
Birthplace: Pontiac, Michigan
Best known as: The euthanasia advocate known as "Dr. Death"

Jack Kevorkian was the former medical pathologist known for his high-profile antics in support of voluntary euthanasia. A 1952 graduate of the University of Michigan medical school, Jack Kevorkian became known to colleagues as "Dr. Death" for his keen interest in dying patients. After a career in various hospitals in California and Michigan, he settled in Michigan in 1982, where he earned a living in part by publishing articles on euthanasia in European medical journals. Dr. Kevorkian became famous in the 1990s for his "death machine," a device he invented that allowed a user to self-inject an anesthetic and then a lethal dose of potassium chloride. (He called the machine a thanatron, after Thanatos, the figure of death in Greek mythology.) His initial "assisted suicides" led to a 1993 Michigan law that specifically prohibited him from continuing, a law he openly defied in an effort to force the issue into the courts.

For most of the 1990s Kevorkian -- now widely known as "Dr. Death" -- was on TV talk shows, in the news and in and out of court (and jail) for his role in a number of deaths. In September of 1998 he videotaped the death of Thomas Youk; the tape was broadcast by CBS television's 60 Minutes in November, and Kevorkian ended up on trial again, charged with murder and the delivery of a controlled substance. (Having lost his licenses to practice medicine in California and Michigan, Kevorkian's use of potassium chloride was illegal.) He was convicted in April of 1999 and sentenced to 10-25 years in prison. Denied parole in 2005, Kevorkian, in failing health, was granted parole at the end of 2006 and released in 2007. Supporters argued that -- idiosyncrasies aside -- Jack Kevorkian was a hero who helped more than 130 terminally ill people end their own lives with dignity. Critics say he was a weirdo who exploited sick and disabled people for his own morbid experiments. Either way, he was credited with bringing the issue forward into public debate. After his release from prison he lived outside of Detroit until his death in 2011.

Extra credit: Jack Kevorkian had his first brush with professional controversy in 1958, when he lost his job for suggesting that medical experiments be performed on consenting death row inmates in lieu of execution... Kevorkian moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s and reportedly made a feature film (based on Handel's Messiah), but the film was never distributed and the details are sketchy at best... He was of Armenian descent... Jack Kevorkian used to advertise himself as a "death consultant," and he dubbed his field "obitiatry"... He once said he first got the nickname "Dr. Death" in 1956, for his research in photographing the eyes of dying patients... Jack Kevorkian used carbon monoxide gas when he was unable to procure potassium chloride... Many of Kevorkian's clients passed away in his 1968 Volkswagen bus, which he had rigged for his equipment.

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