Remembering Jack Kevorkian, The Controversial Physician Called 'Dr. Death'

The right to die is one of the most widely-talked about topics in the world. When a person's life reaches a tipping point, and their suffering outweighs the joys of living, an argument can be made to end it sooner rather than later. 

To some, it is a humane and dignified way to exit this world. To others, it is inexcusable to assist someone in taking their own life. No matter the case, every situation will always be unique. But if there was ever a single individual who pioneered the discussion itself, it was Dr. Jack Kevorkian, also known as "Dr. Death." 

Kevorkian advocated for patients taking their own lives if they ever reached that tipping point. He argued their decision went beyond any law a government put in place – that it wasn't legal or illegal, but a personal right.

  • He Was Sent to Prison For Second-Degree Murder

    While Jack Kevorkian's trial for the slaying of Janet Adkins was dismissed, he ran into legal trouble again in 1999. After videotaping himself giving a lethal injection to Thomas Youk, who was stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), Kevorkian was again arrested for a patient's passing.

    This time, however, he was sentenced to 10-25 years on second-degree murder charges. He was released in 2007 for good behavior. 

  • He Was Briefly Homeless
    Photo: Kingkongphoto / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    He Was Briefly Homeless

    Before Jack Kevorkian caught the world's attention with his radical stance on suicide, he had his share of struggles – moving from job to job and trying to find steady work as a physician. To make matters worse, he also broke things off with his then-fiance.

    By the early 1980s, Kevorkian's situation had deteriorated so badly that he was forced to live in his car at times. He lived off canned food and social security benefits, all the while writing several papers and proposals on the benefits of assisted suicide.

  • He Tried Transfusing The Blood Of The Dead Into Living Patients
    Photo: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

    He Tried Transfusing The Blood Of The Dead Into Living Patients

    Jack Kevorkian believed doctors could reuse the blood of the dead, and transfuse it into living patients.

    After hearing about a similarly controversial Russian experiment, Kevorkian realized if the dead were no longer using their blood then perhaps it could be pumped into those who needed it. He pictured the procedure's use on a battlefield, where wounded soldiers could not immediately get to a blood bank. 

    Although Kevorkian successfully simulated his experiment and pitched it to the Pentagon, he failed to earn a federal grant, forcing him to eventually abandon the project. 

  • He Was Once Charged With Murder Before It Was Dismissed

    After helping Janet Adkins end her life, Jack Kevorkian was thrust into the national spotlight. Some saw him as a hero for helping someone find peace, while others saw him as a cold-blooded life-taker. He even appeared on Nightline, Geraldo, and Good Morning America to discuss his methods. 

    However, the state of Michigan saw him as a butcher.

    Kevorkian was charged with first-degree murder in Adkins's passing. The charges didn't stick as the judge did not believe the prosecutors presented enough evidence that Kevorkian planned and carried out the taking of Adkins's life. This, along with Michigan not having a strict rule regarding assisted suicide, forced the judge to dismiss the case. 

  • He Custom Built His Own 'Suicide Machines'

    Knowing suicide should be done in a quick and painless manner, Dr. Jack Kevorkian devised two machines that could easily be prepared and hooked up to the patient. One was called the Mercitron and the other the Thanatron, with both designed to relive the pain and suffering of the terminally ill. 

    The Thanatron was devised to inject a series of chemicals into the patient's body. This process consisted of three steps: saline injection, followed by a painkiller (thiopental), and finally, a fatal injection of potassium chloride. 

    This invention led to the construction of Kevorkian's Mercitron, which took the injections out of the equation, and opted for a faster solution. It was essentially a gas mask hooked to a tank full of carbon monoxide, which the patient inhaled until they expired. 

  • He Earned The Nickname 'Dr. Death' From A Research Paper

    Three years out from medical school, Dr. Jack Kevorkian grew more and more obsessed with the dead and dying. The Detroit-area hospital where he worked started calling him Dr. Death.

    It wasn't enough that he routinely examined the bodies of patients after they had expired; Kevorkian also advocated for what he called terminal human experimentation. This later became known as assisted suicide.