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Jack Kevorkian's papers donated to U-M library

Oct 14, 2015

Credit The University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library

The papers of the controversial Dr. Jack Kevorkian are now open to the public at the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library.

The collection was donated by Ava Janus, niece of the widely known assisted suicide advocate, and it includes recordings of his consultations with patients seeking to end their lives.

"Kevorkian is probably the best-recognized face of the right-to-die movement," said Michigan Radio senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry.

Lessenberry said the collection of Kevorkian materials is a historical treasure trove.

"There's always been controversy over whether what he did was medically justified or not," said Lessenberry. "And this will enable researchers to come to their own independent conclusions because all his stuff will be right there."

According to the Bentley, Kevorkian proposed giving prisoners who had been sentenced to death the option to undergo euthanasia in order to subject their bodies to medical experimentation and to harvest healthy organs.

Olga Virakhovskaya, Bentley's lead archivist who processed the materials, said they include correspondence, published works, manuscript drafts, court records, as well as the video consultations and other files related to "medicides" – a term Kevorkian used to refer to the assisted suicides of more than 100 terminally ill people he provided with services between 1990 and 1998.  

Virakhovskaya said the collection contains lesser-known materials relating to his personal interests, including his artwork and musical compositions, and to his family. 

Kevorkian, a Detroit native,  graduated from the U-M Medical School. He facilitated his first medicide in 1990. He died in 2011 at the age of 83, after multiple physician-assisted suicide trials and one conviction for which he served an eight-year prison sentence. He was released four years before his death.

"I think the 2010 HBO movie titled "You Don't Know Jack" is right on target with that title," said Virakhovskaya. "He was such an interesting person with so many interests and talents. I spent more than a year with him because when you process somebody's papers, you feel you've come to know the person. It was quite interesting, and I still don't think I know him."