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Thursday, November 26, 1998 Published at 00:35 GMT

World: Americas

Profile: 'Dr Death'

Jack Kevorkian: Admits helping in 130 suicides

Dr Jack Kevorkian, a 70-year-old retired pathologist, has devoted most of his life to the campaign for assisted suicide.

He was born in 1928 in Pontiac, Michigan, to a family of Armenian immigrants.

He embarked on a career in pathology, gaining the nickname "Dr Death" in the 1950s through his efforts to photograph the eyes of dying patients.

Dr Kevorkian became the chief pathologist of Saratoga General Hospital in Detroit in 1970, but he quit his career a few years later, travelled to California, and invested his life savings in directing and producing a feature movie based on Handel's Messiah.

With no distributor, the movie flopped.

He started writing about euthanasia in the 1980s, first in an obscure German journal Medicine and Law, outlining for example his proposed system of planned deaths in suicide clinics, including medical experimentation on patients.

'Suicide machine'

Dr Kevorkian has admitted helping more than 130 people to end their lives.

[ image: Dr Kevorkian was acquitted on two counts of assisted suicide in 1996]
Dr Kevorkian was acquitted on two counts of assisted suicide in 1996
The first suicide he was involved in was the 1990 death of Jane Adkins, 54, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. She died in Dr Kevorkian's Volkswagen van in Groveland Oaks Park near Holly, Michigan.

Her death was assisted by a "suicide machine" - built by Dr Kevorkian using $30 worth of scrap parts from garage sales and hardware stores at his kitchen table.

Six months later a murder charge against Dr Kevorkian was dismissed - the ruling has never been appealed.

Since then, Dr Kevorkian has been aquitted in two more trials involving four other deaths.

In 1995, he even opened a "suicide clinic" in a office in Springfield Township, Michigan, but was booted out by the building's owner a few days after his first client died.

Support from colleagues

Dr Kevorkian has been supported by other doctors. In, 1995, a group of doctors and other medical experts in Michigan announced they will draw up a set of guiding principles for the "merciful, dignified, medically-assisted termination of life."

A 1995 study of doctors' attitudes on assisted suicide in the states of Oregon and Michigan has demonstrated that a large number of physicians surveyed support doctor-assisted suicide, in some conditions

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