For years, I covered the assisted suicide crusade of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who became internationally famous in the 1990s. Today, we tend to remember his outlandish antics –his bizarre suicide machine; the battered Volkswagen van, and the strange Mutt and Jeff combination of the wacky aged physician and a young, brash, and outrageous Geoffrey Fieger.
But we tend to forget that Kevorkian was fulfilling a need. Medical science can now prolong people’s existence far beyond the point when they have any quality of life.
People were being made to endure horrific suffering with no possibility of relief. Others just wanted to be freed from the prison of lives that no longer held any promise of happiness.
State Representative Tom Cochran, a Democrat from the Lansing suburb of Mason, has introduced a “Death with Dignity” act to allow terminally ill people to ask for medication to end their lives. His bill is well-crafted to safeguard against abuses.
Twenty years ago, before he was finally sent to prison, I asked Dr. Jack Kevorkian whether he thought physician-assisted suicide would ever be legal throughout America.
He told me yes, but not for the right reasons.
Jack Lessenberry for Monday, August 15, 2016
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You are a baby boomer,” he said. “There’s 75 million of you. There are only about 17 million in the next generation. Do you think they are going to spend all their money to keep you hooked up to machines? They’ll make (assisted suicide) a sacrament!”
There was a report on Michigan Radio’s Stateside program two days ago that revealed that while nine out of 10 of us want to have an end-of-life conversation with their doctors, only about one-sixth of us have actually done so.
Twenty years ago, Jack Kevorkian went on trial for the first time for assisted suicide charges in Wayne County Circuit Court. In one sense, it was the best of all the Kevorkian trials.
The prosecutor, Tim Kenny, who now is a judge himself, fought hard but clean. The case was heard by a no-nonsense judge, Thomas Jackson, who was respected by both sides.
Kevorkian and his attorney, the flamboyant Geoffrey Fieger, pushed the envelope a bit, but not enough to turn the trial into a circus. Kevorkian was clearly guilty – he admitted to breaking the law.
But the jury refused to convict him. Why? Some of them later told me the dead man was suffering hopelessly, wanted to die, and they thought his fate should be his choice.
Wayne County Prosecutor John O’Hair realized that further Kevorkian prosecutions would be a waste of time. But his counterpart in Oakland County, Prosecutor Richard Thompson, wouldn’t admit it. So he charged Jack Kevorkian again. Four times.
Twenty-two years ago today, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was first charged with murder.
He was charged with the death of Janet Adkins, an Alzheimer's patient who traveled from Oregon seeking Kevorkian’s assistance in ending her life.
Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry knew Kevorkian and extensively covered his trial.
“Kevorkian was more of a scientist than a doctor. He was obsessed with death and obsessed with the idea of organ transplants. He was presented by Geoffrey Fieger as concerned with alleviating peoples’ suffering,” said Lessenberry.
Lessenberry found Kevorkian to be both impatient and strikingly intelligent.
“He was brilliant; he probably had an IQ of 200. He was a restless person and a self-destructive person. He was a very different individual,” said Lessenberry.
TROY, Mich. (AP) - Friends, family and supporters of the late Dr. Jack Kevorkian have paid tribute to the polarizing assisted-suicide advocate during a public memorial service in suburban Detroit.
A large photograph of Kevorkian resting his face in his right hand stood near his American flag-draped casket during the service in a chapel at White Chapel Memorial Cemetery in Troy.
Kevorkian will be laid to rest later Friday during a private grave-site service for those closest to him.
He died in a hospital last week at age 83.
Kevorkian was an advocate of allowing health care professionals help gravely-ill people die and he claimed he assisted in about 130 deaths. He spent eight years in prison for second-degree murder after "60 Minutes" broadcast video of him helping someone die in 1998.
Michael Stampfler, the emergency manager of Pontiac, has flexed new muscles given to him by state legislators and Governor Snyder. Under the state's new emergency manager law, emergency managers can eliminate union contracts and strip local officials of their power.
Pontiac has gotten approval to cancel union contract protections for 11 police dispatchers as it shuts down its police department.
The Detroit Free Press reports Monday's action will make them the first Michigan public employees to have a contract tossed under the law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in March granting expanded powers to state-appointed emergency financial managers.
It's the final move toward eliminating the Pontiac Police Department, which was proposed last year by emergency financial manager Michael Stampfler. Services will be handled by the Oakland County sheriff's department to save the cash-strapped city $2 million annually.
Detroit Mayor Bing prepares for layoffs after override of his budget veto
The Detroit City Council voted to override Mayor Bing's veto of the council's budget. Bing thought the council's cuts went too far. The mayor says steep cuts are coming to the city of Detroit.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing sharply criticized the City Council's override of his budget veto Monday, saying the $50 million in cuts the council restored will close recreation centers, eliminate hundreds of police officers and firefighters and end bus service on Sundays.
"We will have to eliminate a lot of services," said a visibly frustrated Bing, who already cut the budget by $200 million. "People have been complaining for years and years about inadequate services. Another $50 million in cuts is just irresponsible."
A memorial service for Jack Kevorkian
Assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian died last Friday. Now friends and supporters will hold a public memorial service this Friday in Troy.
The ceremony is being held at 9:30 a.m. at White Chapel Memorial Cemetery in Troy, said attorney Mayer Morganroth.
"We weren't going to do anything, but we started getting calls from all across the country and from foreign countries, too," Morganroth told the Detroit Free Press in a story posted Monday on the newspaper's website. "There is just so much interest from people who wanted to do something to remember Jack."
When Jack Kevorkian died Friday, I was on vacation in the Scottish highlands. For once in my life I was without a cell phone, but someone I was with got the news. I mentioned Kevorkian's death to an Israeli woman on our tour.
"I thought he died years ago," she said. She was not alone.
I've run into plenty of people who didn't know he was still around. And in a sense, Kevorkian the assisted suicide crusader had ceased to exist.
Since being released from prison four years ago, he had mostly faded into obscurity. He largely lived the life of a cranky recluse. He divided his days between the Royal Oak Public Library and a cheap apartment across the street. There was a time when I felt that I knew him better than any other journalist. I covered all his trials for the New York Times, did major pieces for Vanity Fair and Esquire, and saw him frequently for six years in the 1990's.
Here is a piece on Jack Kevorkian from Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett.
In Hulett's story, we hear the thoughts of Jack Lessenberry, who covered Kevorkian for the New York Times and Vanity Fair; the Oakland County prosecutor in 1999, David Gorcyca (who convicted Kevorkian); and Geoffrey Fieger, Kevorkian's lawyer.
Hulett reports that Kevorkian once said that Johann Sebastian Bach was his god - and that nurses caring for Kevorkian played Bach during Kevorkian's final hours.
Update 10:05 a.m.
Here's the 60 Minutes piece that led to Kevorkian's conviction in 1999. Kevorkian administers the lethal injection (previous patients reportedly administered the drugs themselves). He was daring authorities to convict him and adding more fuel to the assisted suicide debate in the country:
The New York Times reports that Kevorkian's advocacy changed how hospitals approached end of life care:
From June 1990, when he assisted in the first suicide, until March 1999, when he was sentenced to serve 10 to 25 years in a maximum security prison, Dr. Kevorkian was a controversial figure. But his critics and supporters generally agree on this: As a result of his stubborn and often intemperate advocacy for the right of the terminally ill to choose how they die, hospice care has boomed in the United States, and physicians have become more sympathetic to their pain and more willing to prescribe medication to relieve it.
Kevorkian called end of life treatment in hospitals cruel.
In this 1996 60 Minutes interview with Andy Rooney, Kevorkian said many hospitals take food and water away from a dying patient - treatment the U.S. Supreme Court supported, according to Kevorkian.
"Our august Supreme Court has validated the Nazi method of execution in concentration camps - starving them to death!"
Here's the interview (Geoffrey Fieger, Kevorkian's lawyer is by his side):
Assisted suicide advocate, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, is dead at the age of 83.