Friday, June 1, 2007

A Portrait Of Jack Kevorkian

Jack Kevorkian was born on May 20, 1928 to Armenian-American parents in Pontiac, MI. As a young boy he quit Sunday school because he did not believe in Armenian Orthodox teachings. He taught himself German and Japanese in high school during World war II. He graduated with honors in 1945 at 17.

He attended the University of Michigan from where he graduated from Medical school in 1952. He completed an internship in Pathology at Henry Ford hospital in Detroit, during which period he had an epiphany when he saw a woman who was dying of cancer. It was then that he began to think of ways to alleviate suffering in his patients. In 1953 he got his medical license for Michighan state. He then did a 15 month stint in Korea as an Army Medical Officer during the Korean War. He returned and completed his residency at Pontiac General Hospital, Michigan. He got his nickname 'Dr. Death' in 1956 when he started photographing the retinas of patients at the moment of death to differentiate between coma and death.

From 1956-57 he did research in West Germany. In 1957 he obtained his California medical license. In 1958 he presented a paper on 'Capital Punishment or Capital Gain' at the American Association for the Advancement of Science' at Washington, DC. He suggested the harvesting of organs from death row prisoners. By 1960 he was licensed in Pathological Anatomy and in 1965 in Clinical Pathology. In April 1960 he testified before a Joint Judicial Committee in Columbus, Ohio to revise the death penalty and to legalize medical experimentation on condemned inmates. In 1976 he moved to Los Angeles, California where he changed jobs frequently.

Between 1982 to 86 he mainly did his writing and research. In 1988, even the pro-suicide Hemlock Society founder, Derek humphry rebuffed his methods as "too perilous and risky". In 1989 after reading about a patient who had asked for euthanasia he began working on a lethal-injection machine that would be able to do the task at the 'flip of a switch'. It was called the Thanatron (and later Mercitron). He got a lot of publicity because of this.

On June 4, 1990 he performed the first of his 'medicides' as he liked to call physician-assisted suicide. His 'client' was a 54 year old woman suffering from Alzheimer's. She had contacted him herself after reading his ads in the papers. It was performed in the back of his VW van. She received sodium pentothal (an anesthetic) and potassium chloride (to stop the heart). By the time of this 3rd medicide his medical licemse was revoked for violating Michigan state laws regarding euthanasia. One of his 'clients' was even found on autopsy not to have any major pathology. He continued to do his medicides by giving his clients carbon-monoxide. There were reports that one patient had asked her mask to be removed twice (maybe a change of mind) but Kevorkian had continued with his task.

On August 17, 1993 he was formally charged with violating the law. By then he had already helped 20 clients to their peaceful deaths. He was jailed first in November 1993 and then again in December 1993. Kevorkian went on a liquid only fast for 18 days and was acquitted in May 1994. By now he had even gained several supporters in the general community. By 1998 he had committed over 100 medicides. Relatives of some of his clients claimed that he had continued despite protests from his 'victims'. He was now charged with 2nd degree murder. During his trial he was defended by the flamboyant lawyer Geoffrey Fieger. In March 1999 Dr. Kevorkian was sentenced by a Michigan jury to 10-25 years for his crime.

In a recent interview with ABC News, his lawyer stated that Kevorkian was terminally ill with Hepatitis C, which he contracted while doing research on blood transfusions and perhaps because of this, Kevorkian application for a pardon, parole, or commutation by the parole board and Governor Jennifer Granholm, was granted on December 13, 2006. He was paroled on June 1, 2007.

I live in the only state in America where a right-to-die resolution has passed by state legislators and assisted suicide is legal. How do you feel about this issue. Should terminal ill patients have the right to decide when to end their life? Let me know how you feel by leaving a comment!

While you decide, here's a poem to read:

Almost, But Not Quite

She says her sewing machine is a genius.

I say whenever I see the blue lights flashing in my rear-view
mirror I wish I'd taken a taxi instead. Both of us are
shop-a-holics. Our dream is to go to Paris on a
weekend shopping spree. Are police allowed
to carry guns in France? We have a pair
of handcuffs of the bedpost. She
misplaced the key and I
guess I lost interest.
My DUI cost a fortune
and there went the trip to
Paris. For a whole month I was
able to practice my jailhouse Spanish
and learn the intricacies of breaking & entering.
Things are going well for me now. The string of bad
luck has painstakingly had every pearl unattached. All it
takes to cheer me up is a wallet lined with money. And she'd
settle for a weekend shopping spree at Singer's if it means having a
head-turning spring wardrobe.

This poem first published at:
Copyright 2007 by Maurice Oliver. All Rights Reserved.
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