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Assisted suicide advocate Kevorkian dies at age 83

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DETROIT >> Jack Kevorkian, the retired pathologist who captured the world’s attention as he helped dozens of ailing people commit suicide, igniting intense debate and ending up in prison for murder, has died in a Detroit area hospital after a short illness. He was 83.

Kevorkian, who said he helped some 130 people end their lives from 1990 to 1999, died about 2:30 a.m. at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, close friend and prominent attorney Mayer Morganroth said.

He had been hospitalized since last month with pneumonia and kidney problems, Morganroth said.

An official cause of death had not been determined, but Morganroth said it likely will be pulmonary thrombosis.

“I had seen him earlier and he was conscious,” said Morganroth, who added that the two spoke about Kevorkian’s pending release from the hospital and planned start of rehabilitation. “Then I left and he took a turn for the worst and I went back.”

Nurses at the hospital played recordings of classical music by composer Johann Sebastian Bach for Kevorkian before he died, Morganroth said.

Kevorkian was freed in June 2007 after serving eight years of a 10- to 25-year sentence for second-degree murder. His lawyers had said he suffered from hepatitis C, diabetes and other problems, and he had promised in affidavits that he would not assist in a suicide if he was released.

In 2008, he ran for Congress as an independent, receiving just 2.7 percent of the vote in the suburban Detroit district. He said his experience showed the party system was “corrupt” and “has to be completely overhauled from the bottom up.”

His life story became the subject of the 2010 HBO movie, “You Don’t Know Jack,” which earned actor Al Pacino Emmy and Golden Globe Awards for his portrayal of Kevorkian. Pacino paid tribute to Kevorkian during his Emmy acceptance speech and recognized the world-famous former doctor, who sat smiling in the audience.

Pacino said during the speech that it was a pleasure to “try to portray someone as brilliant and interesting and unique” as Kevorkian and a “pleasure to know him.”

Kevorkian himself said he liked the movie and enjoyed the attention it generated, but told The Associated Press that he doubted it would inspire much action by a new generation of assisted-suicide advocates.

“You’ll hear people say, ‘Well, it’s in the news again, it’s time for discussing this further.’ No it isn’t. It’s been discussed to death,” he said. “There’s nothing new to say about it. It’s a legitimate ethical medical practice as it was in ancient Rome and Greece.”

Eleven years earlier, he was sentenced in the 1998 death of a Lou Gehrig’s disease patient — a videotaped death shown to a national television audience as Kevorkian challenged prosecutors to charge him.

“The issue’s got to be raised to the level where it is finally decided,” he said on the broadcast by CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

Nicknamed “Dr. Death” because of his fascination with death, Kevorkian catapulted into public consciousness in 1990 when he used his homemade “suicide machine” in his rusted Volkswagen van to inject lethal drugs into an Alzheimer’s patient who sought his help in dying.

For nearly a decade, he escaped authorities’ efforts to stop him. His first four trials, all on assisted suicide charges, resulted in three acquittals and one mistrial.

Murder charges in earlier cases were thrown out because Michigan at the time had no law against assisted suicide; the Legislature wrote one in response to Kevorkian. He was also stripped of his medical license.


Some key events in the assisted-suicide campaign of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who said he helped more than 130 people kill themselves during the 1990s:
>> June 4, 1990: Janet Adkins, 54, of Portland, Ore., becomes the first person to use a suicide machine developed by Kevorkian. Murder charges against him are dropped when a judge rules Michigan has no law against assisted suicide.
>> November 1991: Michigan suspends Kevorkian’s medical license.
>> Dec. 15, 1992: Gov. John Engler signs a temporary law making assisted suicide a four-year felony while a commission studies the issue.
>> May 2, 1994: Kevorkian acquitted of assisted suicide.
>> March 8, 1996: Kevorkian acquitted of two assisted suicides.
>> May 14, 1996: Kevorkian acquitted of two assisted suicides. A judge had dismissed murder charges against him in the same deaths.
>> June 1997: Kevorkian accused of assisted suicide. Judge declares a mistrial.
>> Sept. 1, 1998: A law passed by the Legislature takes effect, permanently banning assisted suicide. Lawmakers crafted the bill in an effort to get Kevorkian’s to stop helping people to kill themselves.
>> Sept. 17, 1998: Kevorkian videotapes the injection death of Thomas Youk, shown two months later on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” Youk suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
>> Nov. 3, 1998: Michigan voters reject a statewide ballot issue by 71 percent to 29 percent that would have legalized assisted suicide.
>> Nov. 25, 1998: Kevorkian charged with murder, assisted suicide and delivery of a controlled substance in Youk’s death. Assisted suicide charge later dropped.
>> March 26, 1999: Kevorkian convicted of second-degree murder and delivery of a controlled substance. He faces up to life in prison.
>> April 13, 1999: Oakland County Circuit Judge Jessica Cooper sentences Kevorkian to 10 to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder and three to seven years for delivery of a controlled substance.
>> Nov. 12, 1999: Kevorkian appeals conviction to Michigan Court of Appeals.
>> Aug. 24, 2000: Cooper denies a request to consider releasing Kevorkian on bond pending the appeal of his conviction.
>> Nov. 21, 2001: More than 2 1/2 years after Kevorkian’s second-degree murder conviction, a three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously affirms the conviction and declines his request for a new trial.
>> April 10, 2002: The Michigan Supreme Court, in a 6-1 decision, refuses to review the Court of Appeals decision.
>> July 17, 2002: Kevorkian asks the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn his murder conviction and uphold the right to help a terminally ill and suffering patient to die.
>> Oct. 7, 2002: The U.S. Supreme Court announces that it will not consider Kevorkian’s case.
>> Oct. 1, 2003: A U.S. District Court judge in Detroit denies a petition seeking Kevorkian’s release.
>> Oct. 6, 2003: Attorney Geoffrey Fieger says he is renewing his representation of Kevorkian for the first time in five years, saying the assisted suicide proponent should be released from prison and resentenced to time served.
>> Dec. 1, 2003: An Oakland County judge denies a motion filed by Fieger asking that Kevorkian be released from prison and resentenced to time served.
>> Nov. 1, 2004: The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, rejects another appeal by Kevorkian for a new trial.
>> Dec. 7, 2004: The Michigan Parole Board says it will not act on a request from Kevorkian to recommend to Gov. Jennifer Granholm that she grant him parole or commute his sentence. The board says the request is essentially the same one that Granholm rejected a year earlier.
>> Dec. 22, 2005: Despite reports that Kevorkian’s health is failing, the parole board votes to recommend that Granholm deny his application for a commuted sentence or a pardon.
>> June 22, 2006: The parole board rejects Kevorkian’s claim that he has less than a year to live and so should have his second-degree murder sentence commuted. The matter does not go to the governor.
>> Dec. 13, 2006: The Michigan Department of Corrections announces that Kevorkian will be paroled the following June.
>> June 1, 2007: Kevorkian leaves prison, saying the release was “wonderful: one of the high points in life.”
>> Nov. 4, 2008: Kevorkian receives 2.7 percent of the vote in his independent bid for Congress in a suburban Detroit district.
>> April 24, 2010: HBO biographical movie “You Don’t Know Jack” debuts, featuring Al Pacino as Kevorkian; Brenda Vaccaro as Kevorkian’s stalwart sister, Margo; John Goodman as his equally loyal friend, Neal Nicol; Danny Huston, playing flamboyant attorney Geoffrey Fieger; and Susan Sarandon as Hemlock Society activist Janet Good.
>> Aug. 30, 2010: Pacino wins Emmy as best lead actor in a miniseries or movie for “You Don’t Know Jack.”  
>> May 18, 2011: Kevorkian hospitalized for pneumonia and kidney problems.
>> June 3, 2011: Kevorkian dies at age 83 at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., after a short illness.


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