“Dr Death is Dead!” ran the headlines as Jack Kevorkian, the most prominent of doctors ever to assist in suicides, reached his own last stand in Michigan’s William Beaumont Hospital, last June 3rd, and eight days after his 83rd birthday. Nurses played recordings of classical music by composer Johann Sebastian Bach for Kevorkian before he died.
With the publicity he brought, support for aid in dying rose to 75% in the USA by 1998.
He worked at the edges of the law and then openly against what he saw as unjust law. He gave the 60 Minutes programme a videotape of himself injecting Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old Lou Gehrig’s disease patient, with lethal drugs. The courts acted swiftly. Frustrated until now by technicalities, they succeeded in incarcerating Kevorkian, who had dismissed his lawyer. He served eight years of a 10-to-25-year sentence.
Dr Kevorkian was controversial even among right-to-die groups. But his enduring courage and compassion is seen by many as having paved the way for legislative reform.
1928 – Kevorkian is born in Pontiac, Michigan, the son of Armenian immigrants
1952 – Graduates from University of Michigan medical school with a specialty in pathology
1980 – Dr Jack Kevorkian writes a series of articles for the German journal Medicine and Law about his views on euthanasia
1987 – Kevorkian advertises in Detroit newspapers as a physician consultant offering “death counseling”
1990 – First public assisted suicide, with 54-year-old Janet Adkins, diagnosed with Alzheimers
1991 – Kevorkian’s medical licence is revoked
1994-1997 – Kevorkian is prosecuted 4 times – unsuccessfully
1994 – Oregon legalises assisted suicide
1997 – Releases an album of jazz music, playing flute and organ
1990-1998 – Assists with some 130 assisted suicides – the terms ‘Thanatron’ and ‘Mercitron’ coined to describe his assisted suicide machines
1998 – Videotape of Kevorkian administering a lethal injection goes live to the nation
1999 – Kevorkian successfully prosecuted for second-degree homicide, sentenced to prison
2007 – Kevorkian granted parole (in a series of national polls, a majority of Americans express their support for Kevorkian’s release)
2008 Runs for Congress
2008 – Washington State legalises assisted suicide
2009 – Kevorkian continues to tour and lecture, but without assisting in suicides (as per his parole conditions)
2009 – Montana Supreme Court upholds assisted suicide
2010 – The movie You Don’t Know Jack, starring Al Pacino as Kevorkian, is released on HBO to critical acclaim
Dr Death is Dead (Jamaica Observer)
Detailed chronology 1928-1999 (PBS)
The Kevorkian Verdict (tapes, transcripts, legal rulings, paintings, interviews with families)
Jack Kevorkian: How he made controversial history (BBC)
Red carpet interview – Jack Kevorkian (video)
Larry King Interview (video)
Law Blog Obituary (comment & video – Wall Street Journal)
Jack Kevorkian Obituary in The Economist