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Kevorkian’s audacious attitude set him apart
“I don’t think he was the right ambassador to represent the issue,” Patterson said. “It was the law be damned with him. The issue would have been better debated in a more serious arena than in the back of Jack’s van. … It was a sideshow. Helping people commit suicide in the back of a van is not dying with dignity.”
Those who sought Kevorkian’s help typically suffered from cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis or paralysis.
He catapulted into the public eye in 1990 when he used his machine to inject lethal drugs into an Alzheimer’s patient. He often left the bodies at emergency rooms or motels.
For much of the decade, he escaped legal efforts to stop him. His first four trials, all on assisted-suicide charges, resulted in three acquittals and one mistrial. Murder charges in Kevorkian’s first cases were thrown out because Michigan had no law against assisted suicide. The Legislature wrote one in response. He also was stripped of his medical license.
Devotees filled courtrooms wearing “I Back Jack” buttons. Critics questioned his headline-grabbing methods, which were aided by Fieger, until the two parted ways before the 1999 trial in which he was sent to prison for eight years.
“The issue’s got to be raised to the level where it is finally decided,” Kevorkian said during a broadcast of CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired the videotaped death of Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old man with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
He challenged prosecutors to charge him again, and they obliged with second-degree murder charges.
Kevorkian acted as his own lawyer. In his closing argument, he said some acts “by sheer common sense are not crimes.”
“Just look at me,” he told jurors. “Honestly now, do you see a criminal? Do you see a murderer?”
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.”
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 was freed in June 2007 after serving eight years of a 10- to 25-year sentence. His lawyers said he suffered from hepatitis C, diabetes and other problems, and Kevorkian promised in affidavits that he would not assist in any more suicides if released.
Tina Allerellie became a fierce critic after her 34-year-old sister, Karen Shoffstall, turned to Kevorkian in 1997. She said Shoffstall, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, was struggling with depression and fear but could have lived for years longer.
Kevorkian’s intent “has always been to gain notoriety,” Allerellie said in 2007.
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