"Right to Die" Advocate Jack Kevorkian Welcomed to Speak about "Life and Death"
The Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences welcomed Jack Kevorkian, M.D., as part of the college's Distinguished Speakers Series. Kevorkian spoke on February 5, 2009 to more than 2,500 people in the University Center Arena.
Born in 1928 in Pontiac, Michigan, Jack Kevorkian graduated from the University of Michigan's medical school in 1952 and began his career as a pathology specialist studying terminal disease. Kevorkian's experiences with terminally ill patients eventually brought him to the conclusion that there existed a human "right to die" and that a doctor's choice
Kevorkian went on to design a machine which would allow patients to trigger an intravenous drip of an anesthetic to induce sleep and then coma, followed by an agent that would stop the patient's heart. Kevorkian's first assisted suicide was in 1990, when his "suicide machine" was used by a 54-year-old woman in Portland, Oregon, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. By 1999 he had been present at nearly 130 assisted
The center of increasing public attention for his activities-with the nickname "Dr. Death"-Kevorkian received both condemnation and support throughout the decade. His activities also put him in uncertain legal territory in Michigan-several murder charges in the early '90s were dropped-until 1993, when the state enacted a law that made assistance of suicide a felony.
In September 1998 Kevorkian videotaped an assisted suicide in which he, not the patient, pressed the switch to initiate his device's lethal intravenous drip. Not long after the video aired on the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, Kevorkian was arrested for first-degree murder. In March 1999 he was convicted of a lesser charge, second-degree murder, served eight years in prison, and was released in June 2007.
Assisted suicide remains a highly charged focus of moral and legal debates. Do humans have a right to die that allows them to choose when and how to end their life? Should physician-assisted suicide be considered murder or moral duty?
After his release from prison, Kevorkian promised to no longer assist in any more suicides. However, he continues to advocate for the decriminalization of assisted suicide and serves as a vocal proponent of a person's right to choose suicide when faced with terminal illness.
Kevorkian's visit to Nova Southeastern University corresponded with the college's 2008-2009 academic theme of "Life and Death," which brought together the college's students and faculty to explore the relationship of life and death within social, scientific, legal, religious, and political contexts.