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Kevorkian and assisted death in the United States

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 10 April 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:953

The ethical debate drags on but fuels efforts to improve end-of-life care

  1. Howard Brody, Director (
  1. Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA

    Retired pathologist Jack Kevorkian's assistance in the suicide of Janet Adkins, in June of 1990, did more than any other single action to make assisted suicide a hot button issue in the United States. Ironically, Dr Kevorkian's conviction last month on charges of second degree murder in Pontiac, Michigan, will probably have little if any impact on the further progress of the American assisted suicide “movement.”

    Already acquitted by juries three times on charges of assisting suicides, Kevorkian's actions this time led armchair psychiatrists to conclude that the self proclaimed “Dr Death” must have had his own death wish. He escalated his practice from assisting suicide to direct mercy killing in the case of Thomas Youk, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He prepared a video showing his every action and the exact moment of Youk's death, and appeared with the video on a national television news programme, daring the authorities to prosecute him. Brought to trial on murder charges, he insisted on representing himself in court—a task for which he was woefully unprepared, as was shown by the judge's refusal to allow the testimony from Youk's family, which Kevorkian was sure would win him the …

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