TOPICS > Health

Jack Kevorkian, Doctor who Brought Assisted Suicide to National Spotlight, Dies

June 3, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Dr. Jack Kevorkian died Friday at a Michigan hospital while being treated for pneumonia and kidney problems. He was 83. Ray Suarez reports on the man who brought the issue of doctor-assisted suicide into the national spotlight.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, the man who brought the issue of doctor-assisted suicide squarely into the national spotlight. Dr. Jack Kevorkian died today at a hospital in Michigan.

Ray Suarez has our report.

RAY SUAREZ: He was an outspoken retired medical pathologist from Michigan who became known as “Dr. Death.” Jack Kevorkian said he helped more than 130 terminally ill people die between 1990 and 1998. He used a device of his own invention, a suicide machine that let the patient press a button delivering a fatal dose of drugs.

In 1990, after his first assisted-suicide case, Kevorkian defended his actions on this program, then called “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.”

JACK KEVORKIAN, assisted-suicide advocate: It’s up to a physician, with his medical expertise, combined with logic and common sense and a totally free mind, to evaluate whether this person’s desire and wish is medically justifiable.

And, if it is, then I think it’s a physician’s duty to offer that option to the patient. And I wanted to demonstrate also that now there’s a great need for it in this country.

RAY SUAREZ: Right from the start, though, there was fierce criticism.

On that same program, lawyer and medical ethicist Susan Wolf was interviewed by Robert MacNeil.

SUSAN WOLF, lawyer and medical ethicist: I think it’s blatantly unethical. The medical profession has repeatedly rejected suggestions that physician-assisted suicide be legitimated. Doctors are supposed to be healers, not killers. Beyond that, I think it’s most probably illegal.

RAY SUAREZ: Michigan authorities agreed, and tried repeatedly to prosecute Kevorkian. There were three acquittals and a mistrial. But he was finally convicted in 1999 after he had allowed “60 Minutes” to broadcast the lethal injection of a patient who had Lou Gehrig’s disease.

MAN: Guilty of lesser charge of second-degree murder.

RAY SUAREZ: Kevorkian spent the next eight years in prison. He was released on parole in 2007, still defiant, but promising not to break the law again.

JACK KEVORKIAN: I will not do it again because it would be counterproductive. What would it serve? What purpose? It’s now up to the people to fight for their right. And this is a right. It’s a natural right. You’re born with that right.

RAY SUAREZ: Jack Kevorkian’s own life ended early today in Royal Oak, Mich., where he had been hospitalized with pneumonia and kidney problems. He was 83 years old.