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01 Jun 2007 07:23
Jack Kevorkian, the assisted suicide advocate known as “Dr Death,” steps out of prison on Friday and back into the debate over whether the terminally ill have a right to end their lives with medical aid.
Kevorkian (79) is scheduled to be released from a prison in Coldwater, Michigan, after serving eight years for a murder that capped a decade during which he courted controversy, defied prosecutors and presided as a doctor in dozens of deaths.
After winning parole with an appeal to his own failing health, the former pathologist will face restrictions prohibiting him from caring for the elderly or assisting in any other suicides as he moves back to the Detroit area.
But starting with a series of high-profile television interviews, Kevorkian is expected to return as an outspoken advocate for legalizing assisted suicide in the United States and elsewhere.
“I think a lot of people will be interested to hear what he has to say,” said Carol Poenisch, whose mother, Merian Frederick, ended her life in 1993 with Kevorkian’s help.
“I will be listening to hear his thinking after eight years away from this,” said Poenisch, who remained friendly with Kevorkian and sometimes sent books to him in prison.
In 1999 a Michigan jury convicted Kevorkian of second-degree murder after he videotaped himself administering lethal drugs to 52-year-old Thomas Youk in suburban Detroit and sent the tape to the CBS news show 60 Minutes.
Like Frederick, Youk had suffered from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a wasting disorder of the nervous system.
Kevorkian, who says he assisted in some 130 deaths, had thwarted four previous attempts by prosecutors to convict him and flouted a Michigan ban on assisted suicide aimed at him. State regulators also revoked his medical license in 1991.
Before Youk, Kevorkian arranged for those seeking to die under his supervision to operate the “suicide machines” of his design in scenes that often played out in his rusty Volkswagen van.
Mayer Morganroth, Kevorkian’s lawyer, said his client had many offers for speaking engagements waiting for him, including some paying between $50 000 and $100 000.
‘Poster boy’ for reform?
After a return appearance on 60 Minutes set to be broadcast on Sunday, Kevorkian is eager to take up a quieter life, with time devoted to painting, music and publishing a pair of books he wrote in prison, Morganroth said.
That would suit other US advocates for assisted suicide, who seek to distance their cause from Kevorkian after a decade of stalemate in their effort to push legal reforms.
Ian Greenfield, a spokesperson for Denver-based Compassion & Choices, a leading advocacy group for “choice-in-dying” laws, said Kevorkian deserved credit for drawing attention to the issue.
But he said Kevorkian also flouted the law, adding, “Kevorkian is really the poster boy for why we need a law, and I don’t think that is going to change.”
In 1997, Oregon became the only US state to legalise physician-assisted suicide.
Records show 292 such suicides under that law from 1998 through 2006.
Efforts to pass similar measures in other states including Michigan and Hawaii have failed.
A Bill modelled on the Oregon law is set to go to the California legislature next week in a move seen by all sides as the most important test of the issue in years.
Kevorkian himself is frail and suffers from hepatitis, high blood pressure and diabetes, Morganroth said.
The Detroit lawyer said he has not spoken to Kevorkian about his end-of-life plans, adding that his client “never advocated that people take their own lives, only that they should have the right to choose”.
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