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Jack Kevorkian was a U.S.-based physician who assisted in patient suicides, sparking increased talk on hospice care and "right to die" legislative action.
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But Jack Kevorkian would become infamous in 1990, when he assisted in the suicide of Janet Adkins, a 45-year-old Alzheimer's patient from Michigan. Adkins was a member of the Hemlock Society -- an organization that advocates voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill patients -- before she became ill. After she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's,
Adkins began searching for someone to end her life before the degenerative disease took full effect. She had heard through the media about Kevorkian's invention of a "suicide machine," and contacted Kevorkian about using the invention on her.
Kevorkian agreed to assist her in a public park, inside his Volkswagen van. Kevorkian attached the IV, and Adkins administered her own painkiller and then the poison. Within five minutes, Adkins died of heart failure. When the news hit media outlets, Kevorkian became a national celebrity -- and criminal. The State of Michigan immediately charged Kevorkian with Adkins' murder. The case was later dismissed, however, due to Michigan's indecisive stance on assisted suicide.
In early 1991, a Michigan judge issued an injunction barring Kevorkian's use of the suicide machine. That same year, Michigan suspended Jack Kevorkian's medical license, but this didn't stop the doctor from continuing to assist with suicides. Unable to gather the medications needed to use the Thanatron, Kevorkian assembled a new machine, called the Mercitron, which delivered carbon monoxide through a gas mask.
The following year, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill outlawing assisted suicide, designed specifically to stop Kevorkian's assisted suicide campaign. As a result, Kevorkian was jailed twice that year. He was bailed out by lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, who helped Kevorkian escape conviction by successfully arguing that a person may not be found guilty of criminally assisting a suicide if they administered medication with the "intent to relieve pain and suffering," even it if did increase the risk of death.
Kevorkian was prosecuted a total of four times in Michigan for assisted suicides -- he was acquitted in three of the cases, and a mistrial was declared in the fourth. Kevorkian was disappointed, telling reporters that he wanted to be imprisoned in order to shed light on the hypocrisy and corruption of society.
In 1998, the Michigan legislature enacted a law making assisted suicide a felony punishable by a maximum five year prison sentence or a $10,000 fine. They also closed the loophole that allowed for Kevorkian's previous acquittals. Yet Kevorkian continued to assist patients. Meanwhile, the courts continued to pursue Kevorkian on criminal charges.
Not one to stand down from a challenge, Kevorkian pursued his crusade with even greater passion in 1998. That year, he allowed the CBS television news program 60 Minutes to air a tape he'd made of the lethal injection of Thomas Youk. Youk suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, and had requested Kevorkian's help.
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