DETROIT (AP) - Jack Kevorkian built his suicide machine with parts gathered from flea markets and stashed it in a rusty Volkswagen van.
But it was Kevorkian’s audacious attitude that set him apart in the debate over doctor-assisted suicide. The retired pathologist who said he oversaw the deaths of 130 gravely ill people burned state orders against him, showed up at court in costume and dared authorities to stop him or make his actions legal. He didn’t give up until he was sent to prison.
The 83-year-old Kevorkian died Friday at a Michigan hospital without seeking the kind of “planned death” that he once offered to others. He insisted suicide with the help of a medical professional was a civil right.
His gaunt, hollow-cheeked appearance gave him a ghoulish, almost cadaverous look and helped earn him the nickname “Dr. Death.” But Kevorkian likened himself to Martin Luther King and Gandhi and called physicians who didn’t support him “hypocritic oafs.”
“Somebody has to do something for suffering humanity,” he once said. “I put myself in my patients’ place. This is something I would want.”
Kevorkian jabbed his finger in the air as he publicly mocked politicians and religious leaders. He was a magnet for the news media, once talking to reporters with his head and wrists restrained in a medieval-style stock.
His efforts put the medical establishment in knots: Here was a doctor admitting he had helped people die and urging others in the profession to do the same.
Kevorkian died at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, where he had been hospitalized since May 18 with pneumonia and kidney problems. He suffered from a blood clot that traveled up from his leg, according to attorney Mayer Morganroth, who was present and said his friend was “totally in peace, not in pain.”
“His medical directive was not to be given any CPR or continuing life program.” Morganroth said.
“If he had enough strength to do something about it, he would have,” Fieger said Friday. “Had he been able to go home, Jack Kevorkian probably would not have allowed himself to go back to the hospital.”
“I assumed that someday he’d commit suicide and tape it and air it for the world to see,” said David Gorcyca, who oversaw prosecutions in the Detroit suburbs of Oakland County
Despite Kevorkian’s relentless efforts in the 1990s, few states made physician-assisted suicide legal. Laws took effect in Oregon in 1997 and Washington state in 2009, and a 2009 Montana Supreme Court ruling effectively legalized the practice in that state.
L. Brooks Patterson, another former prosecutor and the county executive in Oakland County, described Kevorkian as an “affable guy” but said his tactics hurt his cause.