Jack Kevorkian, Doctor and Human Rights Activist

Jack Kevorkian, Doctor and Human Rights Activist

“Dying is not a crime.”

Who he was

Jack Kevorkian was the preeminent advocate of euthanasia and the “right-to-die” movement in the United States. The son of immigrants from the Ottoman Empire - his mother was a survivor of the Genocide - he was an exemplary student and polymath. After entering university early and switching to medicine after first pursuing an education in engineering, Kevorkian began to work as a doctor but left a career in the traditional practice of medicine to implement his unorthodox ideas, like performing medical tests on death row inmates. 

Although fascinated by death from his early days as a doctor, he became interested in euthanasia much later. He performed over 100 assisted suicides, where he helped patients to administer a concoction he had devised. After he allowed one of his assisted suicides to be aired on national television, authorities charged him with murder, and he was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a prison term. The terms of his release were that he could no longer perform any assisted suicide procedures, but he remained a staunch advocate of euthanasia. 

Dr. Kevorkian often courted controversy, resulting in successive media maelstroms over his statements and sometimes provocative actions. The epithet “Dr. Death,” assigned to him by fellow doctors, was frequently used by the media to describe him. Toward the end of his life, as attitudes toward the idea of euthanasia started changing, he was increasingly portrayed as the compassionate champion of suffering individuals, an archetype played by Al Pacino in the film “You Don’t Know Jack.”

Despite the immense controversy he engendered during his lifetime, his legacy is one of a pioneer at the vanguard of a developing issue. His mark on the movement to legalize euthanasia was indelible and was best summarized by medical historian Howard Markel, when he said that Kevorkian “was a major historical figure in modern medicine.”

Interesting fact

Dr. Kevorkian was also an amateur artist, often painting pictures on the subject of death.

Learn more about him

NY Times Obituary

NY Times Stories about Dr. Kevorkian

Dr. Kevorkian on Anderson Cooper 360