If the name Jack Kevorkian isn’t familiar to you then you weren’t amongst the living in the mid 90’s. He was known by a number of different monikers including Jack the Dripper and most famously Doctor Death. Kevorkian was a physician that helped people with painful, terminal illnesses end their lives in the most humane ways possible using one of his inventions the Thanatron or the Mercitron a.k.a. Suicide Machines.
In this week’s 3 Questions I hope to shed some light on this great man and remove the shroud of controversy around his good name. Jack Kevorkian should be hailed as a hero, but due to his stance on the controversial subject of physician assisted suicide his character was drug through the proverbial mud. Kevorkian was a scholar humanitarian that offered a painless end to people that were not going to recover from a disease. He helped his patients leave this planet with their dignity intact.
Who was Jack Kevorkian?
Jack Kevorkian was a Pathologist/ Anesthesiologist who hailed from Pontiac, Michigan. He was best known for his efforts advocating physician-assisted suicide. In addition to his role as a doctor, he was also an accomplished jazz musician. He played 3 instruments including the flute and ironically enough the organ. He was a bright individual that taught himself 7 languages including Japanese and Russian. If that wasn’t an impressive enough resume already he was also a skilled oil painter.
What Jack was really known for was for helping terminally ill patients end their painful existence. His interest in physician-assisted suicide originally started in 1958 when he submitted a paper to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In this paper, he suggested that Death Row inmates have the option of lethal injection so that their organs could be donated for study.
It wasn’t until 1989 that he really started to get noticed when he demonstrated his invention the Thanatron or Suicide Machine to the public. The Thanatron was a device that held 3 viles connected to 1 syringe to be injected by the patient. 1 filled with Saline, 1 with sodium thiopental (sleep inducing Barbiturate), and the 3rd vile with a lethal dose of potassium chloride; which immediately stopped the heart, and pancuronium bromide a medication to prevent spasms.
Even though the Thanatron was a quicker and more peaceful means of death Kevorkian only used the device on 2 patients. After assisting with his first 2 patients his license was revoked and he was no longer had legal access to drugs needed to run the Thanatron so he invented another device the Mercitron. The Mercitron was a gas mask fed by a canister of Carbon Monoxide. Much like the Thanatron this device too was administered by the patient. Sometimes with an altered valve so the person could turn the valve and administer the gas. Kevorkian said this method took 10 minutes or longer. He helped over 130 terminally ill people commit suicide and only 2 of them with the so-called Suicide Machine he was made famous for.
What did Jack Kevorkian Do that Got Him into Legal Trouble?
His first patient was a 53 year old woman Janet Adkins who suffered from Alzheimer’s. She was aided in death in Kevorkian’s notorious Volkswagen camper van. in 1989 after his 2nd assisted suicide he was stripped of his medical license.
Kevorkian was tried 4 times between 94-97. It wasn’t until Kevorkian ok’ed the playing of a tape on 60 minutes on September 17, 1998, that divulged his patient 52-year-old Thomas Youk was in the final stages Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Youk fully consented to treatment by Kevorkian in the video. Kevorkian administered the lethal injection himself and was in turn charged with second-degree murder and the delivery of a controlled substance due to the fact that his license was revoked years earlier.
How Long was Jack Kevorkian in Jail?
Kevorkian spent over 8 years and 2 1/2 months in jail and was paroled June 1, 2007. Under the condition that he not help anyone die or comment on assisted suicide for at least 2 years. In 2010 the Movie “You Don’t Know Jack“. Al Pacino received Emmy and Golden Globe awards for his portrayal of Jack Kevorkian. He even personally thanks the good doctor who said it brought tears to his eyes having lived through it.
Dying is Not a Crime
Today, partially as a result of his efforts, Oregon, Washington & Montana allow terminally ill patients to ask a doctor for a lethal amount of medication after a medical and psychological evaluation. In my eyes Kevorkian died a hero. He helped the terminally ill much as we do our own pets and animals yet somehow deem it cruel and unusual when it comes to human suffering. 2 years ago I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s.
I watched her slowly slip from the boisterous, funny, loving person she was to someone who didn’t even know me anymore. She became ultra-sad and often would cry when we’d visit. She fell into stages of massive dementia and started carrying around baby dolls that she spoke to.This was the 2nd family member I’ve lost to this horrible disease. It’s so sad and unless you’ve been in the same boat you just don’t know. I hate to think about it, but when the day comes for me to shuffle off this mortal coil I would like to have the option if I should happen to go the same way. I just want to have a way out if my health radically fails.
Dr. Life on Bill Mahr
Tell me this man had no compassion and I’ll slap the shit out of you.Jack deserves a national holiday. He was true to his Hippocratic Oath of “Do no harm”.
A Letter to Jack
Jack Kevorkian’s Artwork
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Jack Kevorkian in the Press
3 Questions About Jack Kevorkian Physician Humanitarian Click To Tweet