This Day in History (16-Apr-1990) – The “Doctor of Death”, Jack Kevorkian, participates in his first assisted suicide

As a pathology resident, Jacob Kevorkian lobbied for carrying out medical experiments on death-row inmates at the hour set for their execution, and then giving them lethal injections, which earned him the name “Dr. Death.”  Later he advocated establishing suicide clinics (“obitoria”). In 1982 he retired from practice and began to devote full time to his mission: helping patients end their lives. He built a suicide machine, known as the Mercitron or Thanatron, which he operated out of a Volkswagen van to inject a lethal drug dose for people who sought his help in dying. He gained international attention when in 1990 he enabled Janet Adkins of Portland, Oregon, who was 54 years old and in the early stages of Alzheimer disease, to kill herself by using his Mercitron machine. In response to Kevorkian’s role in the death of 70-year-old Hugh Gale, the Michigan legislature passed a bill making it a felony to knowingly provide a person with the means to commit suicide or to physically assist in the act.

In 1993, Kevorkian attended the suicide of Ali Khalili. By going to Kevorkian for help, Khalili, a physician himself, seemed to be making a statement to the medical profession about its need to confront troubling ethical issues. Medical ethicists criticized Kevorkian for assisting in the deaths of virtual strangers and seeking publicity in order to promote his own ideas. Even some proponents of euthanasia (“mercy killing”) condemned the Michigan doctor’s acts. In 1999, Kevorkian videotaped himself administrating a lethal injection to Thomas Youk, a man with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The video was sent to the 60 Minutes TV news show, and caused a national outcry as well as serving as prime evidence. He was arrested and tried for his direct role in a case of voluntary euthanasia. He was convicted of second-degree murder and served eight years. He was released on parole  in 2007, on condition he would not offer advice nor participate or be present in the act of any type of suicide involving euthanasia, to any other person; as well as neither promote nor talk about the procedure of assisted suicide. He claimed to have assisted at least 130 patients to that end.


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