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Friday
Jun032011

Assisted Suicide Doctor Jack Kevorkian Dies 

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for HBO(DETROIT) -- Jack Kevorkian, the enigmatic pathologist known as "Dr. Death" and "Jack the Dripper," who assisted in more than 130 suicides with his "mercy machine" leaves a legacy of activism and controversy.

The flamboyant doctor has died at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 83, according to his lawyer Mayer Morganroth. He'd been hospitalized for about two weeks for kidney and heart problems. A clot broke free from his left leg and lodged in his heart.

Kevorkian, whose tactics included fasting, appearing at a trial in Puritan-era stocks and protesting in a ball and chain, was at once lambasted and praised for his passionate belief in personal autonomy.

Today, partially as a result of his efforts, Oregon, Washington and Montana allow terminally ill patients to ask a doctor for a lethal amount of medication after a medical and psychological evaluation, but they have rejected Kevorkian's call for "death on demand."

Those who have pushed for more liberal laws and legislation in other states say there is no single advocate with the same riveting rhetoric who could have the same impact as Kevorkian.

"He started at a time when it was hardly talked about and got people thinking about the issue," said Philip Nitschke, founder and director of Exit International, which leads the worldwide right-to-die movement. "He paid one hell of a price and that is one of the hallmarks of true heroism."

That price was a murder conviction in 1999. Kevorkian served eight years in prison, but was released early on parole on the condition he would not kill again.

Kevorkian never married and had no children, but his niece, Ava Janus, was with him when died.

The doctor's mantra was "dying is not a crime," and he made national headlines with his invention -- the thanatron, Greek for suicide machine -- which gave patients a "dignified, humane and painless" death. A pull of the trigger released a drug to induce a deep coma. Once asleep, a timer would inject a lethal dose of potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Later, he used a "mercitron," or mercy machine, after his medical license was revoked after the first two deaths and he could no longer get the substances required for the thanatron.

Kevorkian became the face of the assisted suicide movement, which had its roots in the United States in the 1930s and gathered steam in the 1990s.

Kevorkian was born in Pontiac, Mich., the son of working-class parents who left Armenia after the genocide of 1915. He was trained as a pathologist and first got his name, Dr. Death, because of a 1956 paper he wrote about photographing the eyes of dying patients.

Kevorkian's lawyer said there were no plans for a memorial.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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