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Assisted Suicide Advocate Jack Kevorkian of Royal Oak Dies at 83

Longtime resident was a lightning rod for controversy and a familiar face around town.

Assisted suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian of Royal Oak died at this morning after being hospitalized with kidney, liver and respiratory problems off and on for several weeks. He was 83.

Kevorkian first made headlines for his right-to-die stand in 1990 when he assisted in the death of Janet Adkins, who had Alzheimer’s disease. The former pathologist admitted to assisting in an estimated 130 deaths from 1990-98.

More recently, he served eight years of a 10- to 25-year sentence in the 1998 death of Thomas Youk, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease. He was released from prison in 2007 and returned to live in an apartment in Royal Oak, where he was frequently seen at his favorite restaurants and shops.

Kevorkian's niece, Ava Janus, of Troy, said she was by her uncle's side during a brief recovery at Beaumont and when his health began to fail. The downturn of her uncle's condition came as a shock to him and the family, she said.

"He was very aware of what was happening," Janus said. In his final days, her uncle made his final wishes with his attorney. 

"I'm going to miss him," Janus said. "From his perspective, I'm glad he is gone, it didn't take very long and he didn't have to suffer. That's what he wanted for himself and anyone in pain."

Memorial services hadn't been finalized, family said Friday evening. 

Kevorkian's attorney, Mayer Morganroth, didn't return calls for comment Friday.

'A selfless hero'

"He embodied the true American spirit of doing what's right regardless of cost to himself," Clawson resident Kimberly Middlewood said after hearing the news of Kevorkian's death. "I hope he is remembered as a selfless hero who served eight years in prison as the result of ending suffering."

Raising awareness

Not everyone agree with Kevorkian's ideas, let alone his methods. 

When Kevorkian was released from prison, he vowed not to assist in any more deaths. Still, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization took the opportunity to restate its position on end of life care, saying: 

As an organization, NHPCO does not support Kevorkian’s methods or practices. The organization does recognize the role he played in bringing debate about end of life issues to national attention. Kevorkian was intent on finding a better way to relieve suffering at the end of life. NHPCO believes that quality hospice and palliative care services can meet the needs of patients and their families that are dealing with the challenges of life-limiting illness.

Yet Kevorkian had a positive and a negative impact on the discussion about hospice and end of life care, said Deanee Mauser, the administrative director of Beaumont Home Care and Hospice and a registered nurse.

"He raised awareness of end of life issues," she said. "For some people the lines were blurred. They thought hospice was assisted suicide ... We have had people call and ask for physician-assisted suicide."

Hospice provides end of life care, including managing pain, anywhere the patient resides – including at home or in the hospital – if the patient or family requests it and the cases meets certain criteria.

"We did not receive a referral for Dr. Kevorkian," Mauser said.

Fieger remembers favored client

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger, of Bloomfield Hills, defended Kevorkian through seven murder cases, six of which went to trial. He held a press conference at his Southfield office this morning and gave an emotional tribute to Kevorkian.

"Through his courage and determination he shined a light on a right that I believe, he believed, and I think most of us believe that we hold innately, that tens and thousands of people now are no longer abandoned to suffer until dead because of his convictions and his courage," Fieger said.

"I personally will miss him."

Resident shakes up Royal Oak

Royal Oak resident John Schultz remembers sharing a wall with Kevorkian in downtown Royal Oak when Schultz was an editor for the Royal Oak Mirror.

Kervorian lived in an apartment building on Main Street that was between Mr. B's and the building at Third and Main, said Schultz, now the managing editor at DBusiness magazine based in Royal Oak. "The Mirror offices were in that building and my office and Jack's apartment shared a wall," he said. "I would hear Jack in his apartment doing dishes or moving around, playing flute, etc. We would run into each other occasionally in the adjoining entrance. We would chat, but he never would discuss what he called 'his business.'

"One night I worked late to around 3 a.m. on page proofs for The Mirror. I went home for a couple hours of sleep before the printer came the next morning. I came downtown to the office around 8 a.m. and the place was surrounded with media trucks and reporters from all over. 

"I asked what was going on and found out Dr. Kevorkian had performed an assisted suicide the night before – and I was three feet and a wall away working on the page proofs and didn't hear a thing!"

It was the first assisted suicide in Kevorkian's apartment, noted Schultz, also the  co-author of Images of America: Royal Oak. The previous assisted deaths were performed in Kevorkian's van. "From that point, downtown Royal Oak was a buzz with folks wanting to get a glimpse of him or his apartment," Schultz said.

The apartment building was torn down a couple years later for Mr. B's to expand.

'You Don't Know Jack'

Kevorkian returned to the public eye again a couple of years ago when HBO made the movie You Don’t Know Jack about the former pathologist's crusade for what he called the right to a dignified death for the terminally ill and suffering. It aired on HBO in April 2010.

Actor Al Pacino, who played Kevorkian in the movie, paid homage to Kevorkian when he won an Emmy for the role in August. "To have had the pleasure to try to portray someone as brillant and interesting and unique as Dr. Jack Kevorkian … Thank you Jack!" Pacino said in his acceptance speech at the Emmy awards, at which Kevorkian was a guest.

Reporter's tale: 'I think he viewed himself as a martyr'

Steve Huber is a 54-year-old former reporter who covered Kevorkian. He said Friday that he remembers meeting Kevorkian in 1990 as the retired pathologist was just starting his crusade for assisted suicide.

Huber, now the marketing and communications officer for Oakland County who lives in Grand Blanc, was covering a trial for which a quadriplegic was trying to get a court order to end his life. The man, David Rivlin, said he had been contacted by Kevorkian.

Huber met with Kevorkian at a Chinese restaurant. “He just seemed to be a quirky old dude who had some radical ideas,” Huber recalled.

That initial meeting soon led to one of the most fascinating stories Huber ever covered.

A reporter at the Oakland Press for 18 years, Huber covered all of the trials that led to Kevorkian’s 10- to 25-year sentence for second-degree murder.

“I recall when he was actually convicted,” Huber said. “His sister was in the courtroom and I was sitting behind her. She looked stunned.”

Huber described Kevorkian as belligerent. “He wasn’t rude or anything like that, but when you got him talking, he had strong opinions about law and medicine and how he always referred to people being in the dark ages,” he said. “I think he viewed himself as a martyr.”

Besides the trial that led to his conviction, Kevorkian was charged four other times, which resulted in three acquittals and a mistrial. For the last trial, Kevorkian decided to represent himself. Therefore, it was no surprise that he lost, Huber said.

“He thought he could get through it just because he was Jack Kevorkian,” Huber said. “He believed he was right. There are a lot of legal barriers, and he was not equipped to handle that.”

– Lara Mossa and Kevin Elliott contributed to this report.

Greg Thrasher June 07, 2011 at 01:38 PM
Natalie, Thank You....It leaves me pause when people who don't know start directing personal attacks just because I have my own perspective. In this forum my race has been attacked, a woman implied I should die, I have been called a taliban, an idiot etc....Yet wonderful souls like you help me keep hope alive.. Enjoy the day..
carrie chambers June 07, 2011 at 02:07 PM
Greg, I hope I didnt hurt your feelers, no attacks here. I did notice that you had some choice words in describing Dr. Death. A post industrial serial killer, selfish creature, a strange creature and a rotten coward. They might be opinions but they are also attacks on a man that is no longer with us. Im curious when you had the chance to meet him, did you give him your opinion on what he did or did you just wait till he died to attack him?!
Greg Thrasher June 07, 2011 at 02:16 PM
Carrie, As a Free Black man in America being attacked, held in contempt and insulted is just part of the equation of course I never lose sleep over it nor do I need a glass of wine to wash down the ignorance. Interesting whenever I would encounter good ole Jack he would often avoid looking me in the eye and responding to my comments.Not only was he lacking in people skills but I did smell the stench of 'negrophobia' in his presence as well.
carrie chambers June 07, 2011 at 02:49 PM
I got a letter in the mail the other day..It was so full of venom, anger, hate ... My reaction was not fear but one of sadness that a human being would have that much pain and hate towards another human being.. So sad... Your right Greg, life is too short to be so angry. Black, white or purple.
Greg Thrasher June 07, 2011 at 03:04 PM
Carrie, I get a lot of hate mail some hand delivered to my home...It is never a good feeling to be on the end of such hate. I do understand the emotion and passion people have regarding this issue . I have no problem with anyone having whatever opinion they have on any issue. I just draw the line when people get personal and start to attack the messenger(me). If I have offended you or anyone on this site with regard to this issue I regret it. I am interested only in providing my views about assisted suicide and Dr. Jack Kevorkian's role . Enjoy the day
carrie chambers June 07, 2011 at 04:39 PM
Greg I agree with you! yay, lol. Getting hate mail because of your views and opinions is a little overboard and the thought that someone is hand delivering hate mail is rather uncomfortable for anyone. I imagine it’s the price that you pay for having strong views and telling people them and knowing some people can’t let things go. Although I don’t agree with some of your points, I'm not that kind of person to take this all to heart. I have learned to pick my battles. Being able to speak your views is a great benefit of living here. I didn’t feel attacked or offended myself; I was defensive over the name calling issue (of Dr. K). I just felt that went too far being called a creapy serial killer and that’s when I stated my feelings. I dont try to change anyones views, I dont want to attack anyone for there views, I will try to understand yours and learn from them. Than I move on. No hate mail on this side of the fence.
Greg Thrasher June 07, 2011 at 06:18 PM
Carrie, I respect the instense nature of opinions on this subject matter in part because assisted suicide is truly a profound issue. Of course I don't appreciate the collateral drama associated with the passion of this issue including the unwarranted derogatory verbiage and the veil overtures of sanctioning of my Birmingham Patch Local Voice column and blogging privledges. In spite of it all we soldier on because of the magnitude and life altering nature of this issue. Enjoy the day....
Kimberly Middlewood June 07, 2011 at 07:37 PM
Members of the public will get a chance to remember and say good-bye to Jack Kevorkian, the controversial assisted suicide advocate and longtime Royal Oak resident who died Friday at the age of 83. A public memorial service is set for 9:30 a.m. Friday at White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery in Troy, his attorney Mayer Morganroth said Monday afternoon.
michael J June 07, 2011 at 08:08 PM
Amen, Put the Puppy to rest, whoops not the right term, It turned into a personality attack, one after another, amen amen, why don't you people meet and have a couple rounds of shots, I am sure it will rekinder some old flames.
Dr. Ryan Cooper June 08, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Imagine if Dr. Jack, as brilliant as he was, would have focused his energy, passion and creativity towards preventing disease and/or finding valid solutions to healing... Imagine if he would have learned to raise children that grow stronger and healthier with age and adulthood rather then deteriorating and developing unbearable disease... I think this world would be a much better place.
Lindsay Leppek June 08, 2011 at 04:51 PM
Good point Ryan, yet I'd like to point out the fact that Physician assist in suicide more than people realize. A loved one is laying in a hospital, near the end and in pain, and the doctor suggests turning up the morphine drip just enough to eliminate the pain, but also enough to let the person slip away. I think too many doctors have such little time, too often issues we as patients are even solved because let's say the "symptoms" don't fit into a nic elittle category that easily measures up to a certain pill to take. The are alot of flaws with doctors today, and I think insurance companies, attorneys, and pharmacueticals have alot to do with it.
Jen June 08, 2011 at 07:09 PM
I don't know why that keeps getting thrown up. He wanted people to have a choice, a choice to end suffering. He didn't want to end his that way.....why should he have to? I don't agree with his methods, I don't agree with how he went about it, but doctors for years have been giving just a bit too much morphine....maybe a bit sooner than they should....family members trip over a cord.... I do believe life begins at conception and ends with natural death...that's my belief. I don't get to push that on anyone else. Even if I disagree with them.
Jen June 08, 2011 at 07:10 PM
What does his race have to do with anything?
Jen June 08, 2011 at 07:15 PM
Most people just don't get it. He was not saying we should kill sick people, disabled people, or denying anyone's right to life. He was saying that a person should have the right to decide when they've had enough pain and suffering. Personally, as a Catholic I do not agree with him, I believe life begins at conception and ends at natural death (not being hooked up to a bunch of stuff and calling that life).....this is what I believe...this is how I live MY life.....however, everyone is not Christian or Catholic and they are not bound by my religious beliefs, and should not be bound by anyone's. He was about freedom of choice. He never forced anyone and he didn't say people should do it...he said people should have the option. If you don't want the option, don't take it. He was NOT a serial killer...he was moved by compassion.
Natalie Daniels June 08, 2011 at 08:46 PM
Anytime Greg. Take care!
Natalie Daniels June 08, 2011 at 08:46 PM
Anytime, Greg. Take care!
Kathy Phillips August 28, 2011 at 02:08 PM
If Jack was a serial killer than so are all veternarians. No one questions putting an animal down so it won't suffer.
Kathy Phillips August 28, 2011 at 02:09 PM
Maybe he wasn't in any pain.
M. Ashby December 10, 2011 at 04:07 AM
R. I .P. JACK YOU WERE A MAN WITH A HEART OF GOLD TO PEOPLE IN NEED OF YOUR HELP.
SBurns January 12, 2012 at 08:42 PM
As far as I'm concerned, what Jack did wasn't any different than hospice other than the patient didn't have to "live" in a semi-conscience state. Hospice medicates a patient to a point they don't know what's going on anyway. I know this for a fact because they did it to my dad last year.
Sherry Brantley January 12, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Well, if we're going to talk about what is 'legal' and what is 'illegal' it was once LEGAL to: Beat your wife, Own Slaves, etc. AND it was once ILLEGAL to: Teach slaves to read, allow women to vote, or consider African-Americans as 'human.' As the saying goes: All that is moral is not legal, and all that is legal is not moral!" Which is why PEOPLE make make and take a stand, sometimes alone... to effect positive change for all! If YOU don't want the service of assisted suicide, then of course, CHOOSE to NOT use it. But for those who want even THAT CHOICE... Just allow THEM that DIGNITY. Not sure why others think THEIR 'way' should be 'EVERYONE'S way. Just create what YOU want in life, and allow others to do the same. (When it's not infringing upon others of course, so I'm NOT talking about letting pedophiles committ atrocious acts or rapists 'do their thing.) Hopefully I'm addressing Civil-Minded adults?
Mark Conner January 12, 2012 at 10:44 PM
i remember hearing a funny quote on a letterman top 10 list during jacks first trial. they said he was trying to get a change of venue to the back of his van. LMAO!!
Joe Papierz Jr January 12, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Instead of asking for a Kervorkian ending to life any patient has the right to refuse extrordinary measures to preserve or resusitate their life in the last days of their terminal illness. They can die in peace in a hospital bed with appropriate pain killers to be comfortable surrounded by family members if they wish.
ecnalubma January 12, 2012 at 11:01 PM
This discussion should sicken both sides of this debate. If you support this cause then you have picked the wrong person to follow. Doctor Death avoided any help when evaluating his subjects. It is fact that he put to death at least 5 people who had no terminal illness, and a third of his victims did not suffer pain. He reported that he didn’t even talk to his first victim before he assisted her in death and to carry out his sinister plan. Many hang their hat on this guy who at best was a miserable failure in the profession of pathology. His biography shows a guy who at best was an author of fiction and the macabre.
Sherry Brantley January 12, 2012 at 11:30 PM
And yet, who can say who 'suffered pain' or not? Not all 'pain' is physical. Sometimes there's a mental and or spiritual 'pain' that gnaws away at a person each moment of the day. It becomes difficult to think clearly, see a way out, have hope. Any situation or circumstance can bring this about for people. Yet instead of seeing 'death' or the end of 'this' life as having met it's demise, some of us want to cling to it... no matter what, and we want others to also cling to it... no matter the cost. Just because technology CAN keep us alive forever, doesn't mean that it should. There is such a thing as a 'quality' of life, and not everyone wants to cling to the 'quantity' of life. Is it at all possible to simply bless those who make their choices.. whether we ever understand them or not... and move on with OUR choices? Or must we continue to malign, condemn, criticize and complain about choices others make in their own lives? Hmmmnn... it reminds me of the words of an old song: "OH yeah, life goes on.. even after the thrill of living is gone!"
Joy from Brooklyn January 13, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Thank you! I believe there was someone more recently who suffered from mental depression, whom he also put to death. Which, of course along with each and every one of those lives he took... leads to the ultimate question... where does one draw the line, when there is no moral compass in the first place? No sense of right or wrong, just: 'I have the right to do what I please' ? What would have been next? I had a bad day at work, I just got divorced, I'm in pain because I lost someone I love, I'm distressed because my car totaled...I've had a bad hair day..... Hello?.... Dr. Kevorkian?.... Sound far-fetched? Try this one on for size... how about someone with power of attorney being able to decide if ending someone else's life is "suitable" and "appropriate", because someone is mentally ill. Or just... because he or she feels like it... and of course, that's okay... everyone has the right to choose......................
Brenda January 13, 2012 at 05:09 AM
Well, I'm 47 and as of last year, I have buried my entire family. My beloved grandmother, my aunt who was like a 2nd mom, and my two parents. None of them went quickly and none of them were "at peace" when they died. It is a horrendous experience to watch a loved one suffer and to be able to do nothing. We had all the legal documents saying no heroic measures and I was given all the power to make any and all medical decisions, but there were doctors/assisted living nurses who either found "loop holes" or blatantly disregarded my wishes to not force feed, give antibiotics, etc. It was a nightmare and I fought hard to make sure my loved ones were given the dignity that they deserved. There was no comforting them--no drugs strong enough to combat the extreme pain.....just months of laying there in and out of a coma. If I had allowed my dog to suffer like that for the last 4-5 months, I would have been brought up on felony animal abuse charges, but it was ok to allow humans to? Once you go through a nightmare like I went through---not once, but 4 times----you realize that our society has GOT to figure out a way to help terminally ill people (who so choose it) to end their lives in a humane and dignified way.
Sherry Brantley January 13, 2012 at 06:16 AM
I hear you Brenda! And until we truly realize that we are all here for a 'time' and not 'all time,' until we begin to take a REALISTIC view and understanding of dying, crossing over, passing, etc, we won't be able to take that next step. For instance, even TODAY, with cell phones, Ipads, Facebook and Twitter, MANY PEOPLE do NOT have LIFE Insurance, Which is really... death insurance. We spend more time deciding what reality show to watch, than we do on making sure our families will be taken care of, and arrangements made PRIOR to it being 'that time.' That is one thing that should be paid for, and taken care of long before it's needed, and instead, we all go on, as if we'll live forever. Then, our families are left to pick up the pieces of our not having done what we should've been mindful of. And YES, choosing if you want to use a service such as that, is a part of that equation. And just for the record, I don't watch t.v.... reality or otherwise, I DO have life insurance, and my wishes are in writing in a legal format. Alas, I wonder how many of these 'contributors' can say even that? But we are not here to judge or condemn one another. We're here to uplift, inspire, motivate and appreciate. And again... whether you understand someone's stance or not, at least have the grace to allow them to have it, and make it in peace.
Danny Stillinger January 13, 2012 at 09:17 AM
I backed Kervorkian and I hope somebody helped him out!
ecnalubma January 13, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Rants go on and on here. Dr. Death was the wrong guy to follow as the Poster Child for this cause. People want dignity when their life ends, only to find the insurance company standing by the plug ready to pull it. I have seen many times, as recently as this past December, the insurance company wanting to withhold care and having the families told that they need to make sure things are in place for this persons death. But wait, they are here today, giving meaningful interaction with their families. Until the PROFIT motive is removed from end of life decisions who can you really trust? Dr. Death was denounced by almost every expert, association, and crusader in this cause. If you read what he authored, and watch his taped interviews you will see what a real crack pot he was. Good riddance to bad trash. Good luck in finding a real leader for your cause.

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