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Euthanasia Tuesday, 28 November, 2000, 11:19 GMT
'Dr Death': Pushing the law
Dr Jack Kevorkian is now in prison
Dr Jack Kevorkian advocates the legal right of doctors to assist terminally-ill patients commit suicide.

In April 1999 he received a 10 to 25 year prison sentence for murder.

He had pushed the law by televising the death of one of his patients, and the law pushed back.

Sentencing Dr Kevorkian, Judge Jessica Cooper said: "You had the audacity to go on national television, show the world what you did and dare the legal system to stop you.

"Well sir, consider yourself stopped."

Regular court appearances

Dr Kevorkian - known as "Dr Death" - had previously been acquitted by three juries on assisted suicide charges. A mistrial was declared in a fourth trial.

The retired pathologist says he has helped more than 130 people die since 1990.

His last trial came about following his treatment of Thomas Youk.

Mr Youk suffered from a wasting disease. Before he died, he was confined to a wheelchair, and had difficulty breathing and eating.

In past cases, Dr Kevorkian has said his clients used his homemade devices to start the flow of carbon monoxide or intravenous chemicals that caused their death.

In Mr Youk's case, Dr Kevorkian administered the injection.

Televised death

In court, the judge and the prosecutor made a point that Kevorkian provided a videotape of Mr Youk's death to the television programme "60 Minutes," and challenged the legal system to stop him.

Thomas Youk's death was televised
But Mrs Youk denied this. In her statement to the court, she said: "The tape was produced for no other reason then to show my husband's consent."

In this case, the defence wanted to focus on issues surrounding euthanasia while the prosecution wanted to focus on Dr Kevorkian's actions in relation to Michigan law .

"This case is about what Jack Kevorkian did, and what he did under the law under the state of Michigan is commit murder," the prosecutor said.

And Judge Cooper said: "This trial was not about the political correctness of euthanasia. This was about you, sir."

Crusading doctor

However, Dr Kevorkian, who defended himself in court, clearly sees himself as fighting for a cause.

In his closing statement, he compared himself to civil rights heroes Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.

He reminded the jury that in the past acts including drinking beer and registering to vote were illegal.

"Words on paper do not necessarily create crimes," he said.

He told jurors that if they convict him, they would face "the harsh judgement of history, and the harsher judgement of your children and grandchildren if they ever come to that precious choice".

Lacking support

His stand found little support among the officialdom of American medicine.

As far back as 1995, the American Medical Association said: "By invoking the physician-patient relationship to cloak his actions, Jack Kevorkian perverts the idea of the caring and committed physician, and weakens the public's trust in the medical profession."

Dr Kevorkian had previously threatened to go on hunger strike if convicted and jailed. However, he is believed to have stepped back from this position.

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See also:

14 Apr 99 | Americas
26 Nov 98 | Americas
23 Nov 98 | Americas
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