Jack Kevorkian, ‘Dr. Death,’ dead at 83

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Jack Kevorkian, the former point man for the right-to-die movement, died Friday at a Detroit-area hospital from natural causes. He was 83.

The Michigan pathologist, who was released from prison in 2007 after being convicted of second-degree murder, became a national figure after assisting in 130 suicides during the 1990s. For some patients who wanted to end their lives, he would hook them to a lethal-injection machine. He strapped others to a face mask that was connected to a carbon-monoxide canister. The patients then controlled when they killed themselves.

His actions sparked a national debate about physician-assisted suicide for patients who doctors believed had no hope to live. It raised questions about the reliability of a terminal diagnosis and the possibility of future breakthrough treatments.

“I despise people dying at my hand,” he once said, “but I’m forced as a physician to deal with it.”

“This is an ethical practice,” he said. “One that doctors should be able to practice without fear.”

Kevorkian stepped into the spotlight in June 1990 when he helped Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old Alzheimer’s patient from Portland, Ore., kill herself after an experimental treatment failed to cure her. It was the first of many assisted-suicides for Kevorkian.

He was charged with murder several times throughout the 1990s, but the charges were dropped because there was no law against assisted suicide in Michigan.

In September 1998, Kevorkian, who previously had only helped patients end their own lives, killed a patient who was too weak to do it alone. He was later sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison for killing Thomas Youk of Waterford Township. He served eight years before he was released in 2007.

Kevorkian had been suffering from kidney problems and pneumonia. He was hospitalized last month at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.

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