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Assisted suicide advocate Kevorkian dies at age 83
Question of the Day
For nearly a decade, he escaped authorities’ efforts to stop him. His first four trials, all on assisted suicide charges, resulted in three acquittals and one mistrial.
Ray Voet, a Michigan judge who prosecuted the case that ended in a mistrial, said he didn’t pursue a second trial because he thought the judge wouldn’t be able to control Fieger, who gave a wild opening statement the first time around. Voet said he now wishes he had tried again, whether the results were “win, lose or draw.”
Murder charges in earlier cases were thrown out because Michigan at the time had no law against assisted suicide; the Legislature wrote one in response to Kevorkian. He also was stripped of his medical license.
Devotees filled courtrooms wearing “I Back Jack” buttons. But critics questioned his publicity-grabbing methods, aided by Fieger until the two parted ways before the 1999 trial in which Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder.
“I think Kevorkian played an enormous role in bringing the physician-assisted suicide debate to the forefront,” Susan Wolf, a professor of law and medicine at University of Minnesota Law School, said in 2000.
“It sometimes takes a very outrageous individual to put an issue on the public agenda,” she said, and the debate he engendered “in a way cleared public space for more reasonable voices to come in.”
“I did not want him to be a martyr because I cared for him and I loved him,” Fieger said.
In a rare televised interview from prison in 2005, Kevorkian told MSNBC he regretted “a little” the actions that put him there.
“It was disappointing because what I did turned out to be in vain. … And my only regret was not having done it through the legal system, through legislation, possibly,” he said.
Kevorkian’s ultimate goal was to establish “obitoriums” where people would go to die. Doctors there could harvest organs and perform medical experiments during the suicide process. Such experiments would be “entirely ethical spinoffs” of suicide, he wrote in his 1991 book “Prescription: Medicide _ The Goodness of Planned Death.”
His road to prison began in September 1998, when he videotaped himself injecting Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old Lou Gehrig’s disease patient, with lethal drugs. He gave the tape to “60 Minutes.”
Two months later, a national television audience watched Youk die and heard Kevorkian say of authorities: “I’ve got to force them to act.” Prosecutors quickly responded with a first-degree murder charge, which Gorcyca admitted was a risk.
“The most difficult aspect of the whole trial was my decision to dismiss the assisted suicide count, and go for all or nothing on the murder charge,” he said. “The jury ultimately decided it was 2nd degree murder.”
Kevorkian acted as his own attorney for most of the trial. He told the court his actions were “a medical service for an agonized human being.”
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