Jack Kevorkian, who died Thursday, was a controversial figure who confronted one of society’s most profound ethical issues: Should a physician be able to help a person commit suicide?
Jack Kevorkian was a highly controversial figure who confronted one of society’s most profound ethical issues: what happens at the end of an individual’s human life and whether or not a physician should take an active role in hastening that process.
Dr. Kevorkian, who died Thursday, spent eight years in a Michigan prison, but not before he had been directly involved in the suicide of more than 130 people – sometimes in the back of his old Volkswagen van using a device he had invented to administer lethal substances.
But beyond his own history of sometimes outrageous behavior as he challenged the legal and medical establishments, Kevorkian also drove the debate on physician-assisted suicide – a political and legal fight involving state courts and legislatures, the US Justice Department, and the US Supreme Court.
The first known instance of Kevorkian using his “suicide machine” involved an Oregon woman in 1990. The last was in 1998, videotaped and broadcast on “60 Minutes,” and the case for which Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree homicide.
Between those dates, the effort to legalize controlled suicide involving help from a medical doctor took form with advocacy organizations like the Hemlock Society and Compassion & Choices.
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