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Linda Chalat
Linda Chalat
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Dr. Death Dies in Hospital

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Jack Kevorkian, known nationally as Dr. Death, built his suicide machine with parts gathered from flea markets and stashed it in a rusty Volkswagen van. The retired pathologist claimed to have assisted in the deaths of 130 gravely ill people. Ironically, the 83-year-old Kevorkian died Friday at a Michigan hospital without seeking the kind of "planned death" that he once offered to others.

Dr. Kevorkian insisted that suicide with the help of a medical professional was a civil right. He attained national attention in 1990 when he used his machine to inject lethal drugs into an Alzheimer’s patient.. Those who sought Kevorkian’s help typically suffered from cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis or paralysis. After assisting with the suicide, he often left the bodies at emergency rooms or motels.

For much of the decade, he escaped legal efforts to stop him. His first four trials, all on assisted-suicide charges, resulted in three acquittals and one mistrial. Murder charges in Kevorkian’s first cases were thrown out because Michigan had no law against assisted suicide. But once the Michigan Legislature wrote one in response, he was charged and found guilty. He also was stripped of his medical license.

Kevorkian was freed in June 2007 after serving eight years of a 10- to 25-year sentence. His lawyers said he suffered from hepatitis C, diabetes and other problems, and Kevorkian swore in affidavits that he would not assist in any more suicides if released.

Despite Kevorkian’s zealous efforts, few states have made physician-assisted suicide legal. Laws took effect in Oregon in 1997 and Washington state in 2009, and a 2009 Montana Supreme Court ruling effectively legalized the practice in that state.

But currently, 34 states have statutes explicitly criminalizing assisted suicide (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin.) Colorado has criminalized assisting or abetting a suicide: Colorado Rev. Stat. Ann. § 18-3-104 – (1) A person commits the crime of manslaughter if: . . . (b) Such person intentionally causes or aids another person to commit suicide.

Nine states do not have statutes but criminalize assisted suicide through common law: Alabama, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia. And North Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming have abolished the common law of crimes and do not have statutes criminalizing assisted suicide.

In Ohio, that state’s supreme court ruled in October 1996 that assisted suicide is not a crime. In Virginia, there is no real clear case law on assisted suicide , nor is there a statute criminalizing the act, although there is a statute which imposes civil sanctions on persons assisting in a suicide.