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Jack Kevorkian Trials: 1994-99

The Public Debate Over Assisted Suicide Begins, Michigan Suspends Kevorkian's License, The Severely Iii Ask Kevorkian For Help

Defendant: Dr. Jack Kevorkian

Crimes Charged: Assisted suicide, murder, delivering a controlled substance for administering drugs without a license

Chief Defense Lawyers: 1994 and 1996: Geoffrey Fieger, Mayer Morganroth; 1999: David Gorosh, Lisa Dwyer

Chief Prosecutor: 1994 and 1996: Richard Thompson, Lawrence Bunting, Michael Modelski; 1999: David Gorcyca, Daniel L. Lemisch, John O'Brien, John Skrzynski

Judge: 1994: Thomas E. Jackson; 1996: David Breck, Jessica Cooper; 1999: Jessica Cooper

Place: Pontiac, Michigan

Dates of Trials: April 19-May 2, 1994; February 20-March 8, 1996; April 16-May 14, 1996; March 22-26, 1999

Verdicts: 1994 and 1996: Not guilty; 1999: guilty of second-degree murder and delivery of a controlled substance

SIGNIFICANCE: The name Dr. Jack Kevorkian—also known as "Dr. Death"—has become synonymous with the subject of doctor-assisted suicide. By helping the desperately ill to determine their own fates, Kevorkian has forced the courts to tackle the issue of whether assisted suicide should be an option in some instances. Court ruling based on laws unclear on the subject, as well as Kevorkian's continuing to assist those wanting to die, prompted legislative action by the state of Michigan—and indeed, elsewhere in the country.

In June 1989, 53-year-old Janet Adkins of Portland, Oregon, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease—the nation's fourth-leading cause of death, which manifests itself as the irreversible deterioration of brain cells. A Renaissance woman, Janet had taught English and piano, taken up hang gliding when her three sons were grown, traversed the mountains of Nepal, and climbed Oregon's highest peak, Mount Hood. Determined not to put herself or her family through the agony of Alzheimer's, she began to plan her own death.

When Adkins heard about Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a 62-year-old pathologist in Royal Oak, Michigan, who had invented a suicide device, she got in touch with him.

Dr. Kevorkian was known among medics as an eccentric. Officials had forced him out of his residency at the University of Michigan Hospital in 1958 when he proposed medical experiments on death-row prisoners. Since 1982, his ideas on euthanasia had prevented his getting an appointment in a hospital. But, he was still licensed to practice medicine in Michigan and California.

Over several weeks, Kevorkian talked frequently with Janet. He ascertained that her determination to kill herself was clear. But, in Oregon, causing or assisting a suicide was a felony. Michigan had no such statute.

In June 1990, Janet Adkins and her husband flew to Michigan. Over dinner, Kevorkian explained the suicide procedure. Over the next two days he tried to find a motel, funeral home, or vacant office to permit Janet Adkins's suicide on its premises. He explained that he had to tell them what he was doing so they wouldn't sue him later for emotional distress. All efforts failed. Finally, he drove Janet in his own rusty 1968 Volkswagen van to a campsite that had electrical hookups. He attached an electrocardiogram to monitor Janet's heart; next he inserted an intravenous needle into her arm to drip harmless saline solution. Then, as Adkins pressed a button on the machine, stopping the saline and starting the thiopental, which induced unconsciousness, she said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." A minute later, the machine switched to potassium chloride, which stopped Adkins's heart. The doctor called 911 and, when the police came, told them what he had done. Within hours, his name was being heard in households across America.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994