Stateside: Dr. Jack Kevorkian's legacy
Twenty-two years ago today, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was first charged with murder.
He was charged with the death of Janet Adkins, an Alzheimer's patient who traveled from Oregon seeking Kevorkian’s assistance in ending her life.
Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry knew Kevorkian and extensively covered his trial.
“Kevorkian was more of a scientist than a doctor. He was obsessed with death and obsessed with the idea of organ transplants. He was presented by Geoffrey Fieger as concerned with alleviating peoples’ suffering,” said Lessenberry.
Lessenberry found Kevorkian to be both impatient and strikingly intelligent.
“He was brilliant; he probably had an IQ of 200. He was a restless person and a self-destructive person. He was a very different individual,” said Lessenberry.
The relationship maintained between Fieger and Kevorkian was as complex as the doctor himself.
“If it hadn’t been for Fieger, there wouldn’t have been any Kevorkian. Fieger certainly saw Kevorkian as a ticket to national fame, but he was also compassionate. He really cared about him,” said Lessenberry.
According to Lessenberry, Kevorkian appreciated the attention his case afforded him.
“He claimed not to, but he did enjoy it. He died very disillusioned. He thought people would demand he be released from prison,” he said.
Lessenberry noted Kevorkian’s impact on America’s health system.
“The lasting impact of Kevorkian has been twofold. We’ve had two states, Washington and Oregon, who legalized suicide for the terminally ill. And we have the hospice movement. It is undeniably clear that doctors were too callous about pain management and they’ve become aware that they need to do more about that. That’s not saying that Kevorkian was right in any instance, but certainly he inspired the hospice movement,” said Lessenberry.
Ultimately, Kevorkian was concerned with one's quality of life.
“The issue that hasn’t gone away is the fact that medical science can keep people alive long after the fact they’ve had any quality of existence. Kevorkian maintained that those were the people who most needed the option of assisted suicide,” said Lessenberry.
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