Jacob “Jack” Kevorkian, otherwise known as “Doctor Death” fell victim Friday to a blood clot that released from his leg and lodged in his heart, assumed to be complications of kidney problems for which he was admitted to a hospital for in May of this year. He was 83 years of age.
Kevorkian is most known for serving eight years of a 10-to-25-year prison sentence for second-degree murder starting in 1999. This resulted from a videotape he had made on September 17, 1998 which depicted the voluntary euthanasia of Thomas Youk, with the doctor’s assistance by administering lethal injection.
Kevorkian always stood by his own highly publicized statement after his release:
“My aim in helping the patient was not to cause death. My aim was to end suffering. It’s got to be decriminalized.”
Supposedly, Jack helped 130 persons pass away and his actions almost exclusively threw the United States into an ethical and moral debate about how to best treat the pain and suffering of the terminally ill. While Kevorkian’s native Michigan rejected a proposal shortly before he went to trial, the state of Oregon passed the Death With Dignity Act in 1997 and the state of Washington followed suit in 2008.
Yet doctor assisted suicide emerged as the most controversial cultural issue in Gallup’s 2011 values and beliefs poll which was released Tuesday, with Americans divided 45% versus 48% over whether it is morally acceptable or morally wrong.
Today, The Death with Dignity National Center has led the legal defense and education of the Oregon Death with Dignity Law for nearly 20 years. Their mission is to provide information, education, research and support for the preservation, implementation and promotion of Death with Dignity laws which allow a terminally ill, mentally competent adult the right to request and receive a prescription to hasten death under certain specific safeguards. They promote Death with Dignity laws based on model legislation and the Oregon Death with Dignity Act as a stimulus to nationwide improvements in end-of-life care and as an option for dying individuals.
Kevorkian became the face of the assisted suicide movement until his death, which had its roots in the United States in the 1930s and gathered steam in the 1990s as mentioned.
Out of the doctor’s actions also stemmed the Hemlock Society. This was a national right-to-die organization founded in Santa Monica, CA by Derek Humphry in 1980. Its primary missions included providing information to dying persons and supporting legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide.
In 1992, following the publication of his book Final Exit, Derek Humphry left the leadership of Hemlock Society USA. In 2003 the national organization renamed itself, and a year later merged with another group into a newly-formed national organization called Compassion & Choices. A number of unaffiliated local organizations continue to operate under a variant of the ‘Hemlock Society’ name.
In all, Jack Kevorkian will not be remembered as a jazz musician and composer. Or for his 1997 limited release CD of 5,000 copies entitled ‘Lucid Subjazz.’ Nor for his oil paintings and work that leaned toward the grotesque in which he sometimes painted with his own blood, and had created pictures such as one of a child eating the flesh off a decomposing corpse.
He will be remembered as the doctor that helped a reportedly 130 persons die with only one legal conviction of second degree murder. The debate will be sure to rage on in his absence for years to come as end of life policy and care discussions remain at the forefront.
Written by Sy Kraft