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Jack Kervorkian: A Man With a Mission to Aid the Terminally Ill

Updated on August 29, 2012

Crazy Horse: "Today is a Good Day to Die"

Death is such a taboo subject in our society it is hard to imagine anyone thinking of it in positive ways. But, there are numerous cases in which this actually can be a more viable option than living a life without quality or dignity-or suffering immeasurable pain. When I was living in Alaska, 'today is a good day to die,' is a quote that was commonly said among the Native Alaskans in reference to the subject.

If you, or someone you know, suffer from chronic pain it is understandable that you might feel that life has handed you an unfair deal. Unless a person has experienced unrelieved pain one does not fully comprehend the difficulty that it takes in just waking up to another day of ‘more of the same’. In fact, it is usually not a matter of ever really going to sleep-not the deep, restful sleep that most of us take for granted.

People who have terminal illness are another group who may think, “This lack of quality of life has to end sooner rather than later. I do not want my family to be burdened by me the last days of my life.” Hopelessness can grip the spirit of a sufferer like a vice.

In the controversial subject of euthanasia, Jack Kevorkian was a sole advocate in the medical field. I was amazed by his bold daring and followed the stories of his patients/victims because this happened in my home state of Michigan.

At other times I was embarrassed that people would ask if I was related to him. I happened to be married to a man whose name was very similar to Jack’s last name. It was humorous in an uncomfortable way.

Jack Kervorkian

Photo of Jack Kevorkian at the Golden Globe Awards
Photo of Jack Kevorkian at the Golden Globe Awards | Source

Who is Jack Kervorkian?

Jack Kevorkian was born in Pontiac, Michigan in 1928. He was 83 years old when he expired on June 3, 2011. Graduating from the University of Michigan medical school he went into pathology and soon earned the nickname, ‘Dr. Death’ for his unique, if not grotesque, ideas of harvesting organs from prisoners who died; using euthanasia on prisoners; and using prisoners for medical experiments.

While still interning, Kevorkian became fascinated with the subject of euthanasia after caring for a woman who was terminally ill from cancer. Her body was frail and emaciated. Kervorkian noted that her suffering was unnecessary if the medical profession practiced the Hippocratic Oath properly.

Kevorkian began experimenting with methods of assisted suicide after receiving requests from suffering patients. He performed his first physician assisted suicide with a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s in 1990. It was not until some 130 deaths later that a court was able to convict him of second degree murder.

Jack Kevorkian spent eight years in a Michigan prison. Released on probation in 2007 he had to agree not to return to assisting patients with suicide. His belief was that he had a mission and this mission was to educate people that assisted suicide, euthanasia, was more humane than allowing human beings to suffer.

Jack Kervorkian: Death by Natural Means

In 2010 HBO released the movie, You Don’t Know Jack, starring Al Paccino, based on the story of Jack Kevorkian’s life. While Paccino accepted the Golden Globe award, Kevorkian watched from the audience.

Kevorkian’s life ended without the flare or fanfare it had in the decade of the ‘90’s. He died peacefully in a Royal Oak, Michigan hospital of pneumonia and kidney problems. His dreams of legalizing physician assisted suicides died along with him.


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    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Stessily-sometimes that is all there is: information, no opinion or judgement-just facts. Thanks for reading. I appreciate the integrity of your comments and hope you are never in a position to have to formulate an opinion about this issue. Chronic pain and terminal illness is not an easy burden to live with.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Denise, Euthanasia is a subject on which I have no opinion. I've thought it over, but I am unable to make a decision; I guess that I feel that it's a personal decision. It's my understanding that euthanasia is legal in the state of Oregon and in the Netherlands, perhaps elsewhere as well.

      A very interesting presentation which allows the readers to assess the facts and draw their own conclusions.

      Kind regards, Stessily

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Eiddwen-thanks for reading and commenting. He was an interesting man, to say the least!

    • Eiddwen profile image


      8 years ago from Wales

      A very well presented and researched hub Denise and thank you so much for sharing this one.

      Take care


    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi JS-thank you for reading the 'other' Dr J.K. article and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I feel the man made an enormous impact on opening people's minds to what people who are suffering experience. Thanks for the vote up.

    • JSParker profile image


      8 years ago from Detroit, Michigan

      I found your hub very interesting, Denise, especially since I discovered it after you commented on my hub about Dr. K, and the fact that we both wrote about him. Your hub is about the "heart" of the matter, and you offer compelling examples of suffering that lead up to an endorsement of his work.

      I do think Jack Kevorkian made a difference with his life, and that he contributed to a discussion and eventually to change on the matter of physician assisted suicide. Thanks for your thoughtful writing.

      Voted "Up!" and "Awesome".

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Kellie, thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, we probably have many similar situations that we share. I'd love to talk with you more. I've always wanted to visit Hawaii and hope to soon with my sister, Danette Watt, who is also a writer here.

    • kelbethc profile image


      9 years ago from Rural Indiana

      Nice hub Denise, as a chronic pain suffer treated as a drug seeker for an inappropriate amount of time before finally being sent for testing that revealed an actual problem (resulting in appropriate treatment and pain relief) - I certainly know how hopeless it can feel and how often the thoughts of death as a relief come to one in chronic pain or terminal illness. As a nurse who has worked in 'hospice'-like settings - it is hard to justify how the medical field can allow a patient to linger when there is no hope. That said, you worked through the controversial subject lightly, being very factual instead of raising further controversy. I, too, worked for some years in Alaska in two small native communities, we probably could swap interesting stories!


    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you Marsha, for your wise information and sharing your experience. It really does matter when it comes down to quality of life. All of the patients Dr K took care of were people who suffered greatly and had diminished quality of life. Thanks again. :)

    • marshacanada profile image


      9 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Thanks for this very interesting hub. There are doctors doing this work legally in countries like Holland. Also doctors doing this work secretly in other countries since they dont want to go to jail. There are also "right to die" associations that help with advice on how to die and living wills. One such association used to be called "the hemlock club".

      I was in constant pain once for about 6 months after a serious back injury. The only thing that helped was major medication,being in a hot tub, playing Tetris or watching TV while lying on the couch. Not much of a life.I was not happy and was not nice to be with. Finally I got better, but if the constant pain had gone on for years I may well have considered suicide.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Clark-your comments are very well put. It is amazing how another level of our consciousness removes us from the immediacy of the danger/panic and anxiety. If our minds were to settle into that we would be a difficult patient because fear kicks in due to our innate will to survive. When we are removed from that we are able to remain calm and be the observor outside of the situation.

      When you say that in the time of extreme duress you may not have the interest-again, that is allowing the mind to take a back seat and shift to a place of deeper consciousness that is the real driver within all of us.

      It is an amazing and interesting journey-from birth to death, that is for sure. Thanks for sharing your experience. Nice to meet you.

    • clark farley profile image

      clark farley 

      9 years ago

      Very Interesting Hub. I suspect that most Commentors are of like mind, i.e. not a knee-jerk condemnation of Kervorlian; the question of the dying being way, way too important to dismiss out of hand.

      At one time I would have simply said, 'No, I don't intend to linger on past a certain point if I am gravely ill. I know I will be willing to put an end to (my own) suffering'.

      However, having been in the situation of life-threatening condition (a ruptured appendix ), I now am not sure it will be that simple. Maybe it was just me, but at the time when people were rushing around in the emergency room and it dawned on me that things were not looking so good, I can recall that my state of mind got focused on the minute to minute events. I knew I was in trouble, even was aware that I might die, but most of my conscious-self was dealing with minutiae, who was in the room, what were the correct answers to the questions I was having aimed at my face.

      I was oddly disconnected from the overall situation, much more focused on the 'maintenance issues'.

      Emotionally I was quite calm, but looking back now, I wonder how I would have dealt with the questions of end of life.

      I still believe that I have the right to decide how/when I die (if I am given the choice), I am just not so sure that at the time of extreme duress, I would have the interest.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you, Gail, for your insightful comments. I understand the conflict about the euthanasia issue. It is an emotional one for all involved. His death must have brought relief for some people and certainly, there has been no one following his lead in this controversial subject. Thanks Gail for sharing your thoughts.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      9 years ago from South Carolina

      Great hub with very interesting comments. I admired Kevorkian for standing up for what he believed in at the cost of spending time in prison, but I've always felt conflicted about the topic of euthenasia. My strongest beliefs lean more toward alleviating the emotional, spiritual and physical pain that many terminally ill patients experience and toward that end, I strongly support hospice care, especially when it can be given at home such as you were able to do for your late husband. When a patient's needs for love, spiritual care and physical care, including effective pain relief measures are met, there can still be quality of life and also healing of relationship rifts during one's final days.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Ashantina-thanks for reading and commenting. It seems that everyone who has stopped by to leave a comment has the belief that Kevorkian's assisted suicide was truly out of compassion not malice.

      Hi Richard-I agree. He died quietly and peacefully, but really went through a lot at an old age-being imprisoned for eight years.

      Hi Kath-Thanks for your input--I never thought of the influence from beyond...good point. I wish he could have had more doctors understand the importance of having this choice in treatment when experiencing this ongoing pain.

    • Fossillady profile image


      9 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Who knows, maybe Jack can use his influence more successfully from the spirit world he now resides. Perhaps another field of science might be a better choice to help people end their unnecessary pain! I think he had compassion beyond extraordinary! May he rest in peace.

    • Richard83 profile image


      9 years ago from West Virginia

      I could always understand his point. I believe I would rather be dead instead of constantly suffering for whatever cause. You could see that he had a good head on his shoulders. I hated seeing him convicted. I believe he thought he was doing the right thing and if someone doesn't want to live anymore, that is their choice. Great article. Should be a hot topic. Best wishes.

    • Ashantina profile image


      9 years ago

      I understand the fragility of euthanasia, but Im with Kervorkian. I think if a patient requests to be put out of his/her suffering, then so be it, its their choice. Which means its not murder.

      Interesting hub Denise. And I must watch that film of his life :)

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Kath-I think your mother is a very wise woman. Sometimes, the person in the body knows the right time. My husband was like that. He did not want to suffer and feared the hospital more than death. I was grateful I was able to care for him at home surrounded by loved ones. Thanks for your comments.

      Hello Viryabo--my goodness you and I have been out of touch with each other haven't we. Nice to see you again. I will look forward to you joining the hubchallenge another time. :) Thank you for your thoughtful comments about Kevorkian and what he stood for. I'm glad you found it interesting. Take care of yourself!

    • viryabo profile image


      9 years ago

      Hello Denise,

      This is a great subject that touches on a very common problem. One of endless pain experienced by the very ill, or terminally ill patients.

      I quite applaud Kevorkian, knowing he did whatever he did because of human compassion. Euthenasia in itself can hardly be considered as murder. The patients are the ones who ask for it, to stop their pain and move on to the great beyond, free of all the endless suffering.

      He felt their pain too, and so acceded to their requests.

      I have a feeling that within a decade or so, it will be viewed by people in a different light. Positively.

      Fantastic article. Must watch the movie.

      PS; would have loved to take the challenge again, but i've been so busy lately, and barely come to HP. Should be a bit freer in a couple of weeks or so. Then i'll take the plunge again.


    • Chatkath profile image


      9 years ago from California

      This is an interesting topic Denise, my Mother always felt very strongly about having the choice to die should she so desire, and I must say that I do agree, when you consider being sick, in pain and feeling like it is ok to die, and not fearing it. Very taboo subject for so many... because of the negative association. Death is part of life, the cycle, and it is actually quite natural but also so difficult for those left behind....Great Hub!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Nighthag-thanks for seeing through the media hype to the man and his beliefs. He had compassion, but our society turned it around to make him a villan.

      Thanks Saddlerider1-Yes, to my understanding from all I have read and watched on t.v. he was at peace.

      Ruby-you bring up a good point. No one has had the convictions about euthanasia the way Jack had. He was involved in a subject (death) that our society tries to shy away from. It is an uncomfortable place-but one we all will have to face eventually. Thanks for your comments.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      9 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I want to see this movie. I admired him. Why do we put animals who are suffering to sleep and not humans. Thank you.


    • saddlerider1 profile image


      9 years ago

      All I can say is I "DITTO" nighthag Jack had vision and very strong convictions. I am saddened by his demise, I pray he passed peacefully and contented with his achievements of assisting the suffering in their passing to the other side. Excellent write. Rated UP

    • nighthag profile image

      K.A.E Grove 

      9 years ago from Australia

      A wonderful hub about a man who had vision, even if others didn't agree, a man who stood for his convictions at the price of his freedom. Will definitely be looking up the movie. thanks

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Peter-yes, I recall you are from Michigan and have also lived in Alaska--we have that in common. :) Thank you for leaving your comments about your thoughts re: this controversial subject. Sunday Morning on CBS did a piece on him just this morning. As much as he attempted to make people realize the compassion in assisting someone in death, he was unable to get anyone else to support him. It is a dreadful thing to be crippled in body and pain. Thanks for reading.

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      9 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Hi Denise, I'm from Michigan also and have followed Jack infamous career for many years. I was saddened by his passing because most folks only saw the media image of him and not his true love of humanity. Pain is cruel and unusual punishment and Jack was just trying to help. Thanks for an enjoyable HUB. Peter

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      WM--I'm glad to read you will try the challenge soon. :)

      Good luck with your pain management.

      Ann-Thanks for the vote. :)

      Kwade T--thank you. It is quite a controversial subject. I am sure there were many folks who were happy when he died. Still...he brought out some good points.

    • kwade tweeling profile image

      kwade tweeling 

      9 years ago from USA

      Great article about a touchy subject.

    • annmackiemiller profile image


      9 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

      very interesting hub Denise

      voted up and stuff

    • workingmomwm profile image

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      9 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks for the hubchallenge tips, Denise. I'll give it another try. :-)

      As for the pain, I've started physical therapy - finally, and that seems to be helping me more than anything else they've tried up to this point.

      I've thought about acupuncture, but I never have tried it before. Interesting! Might consider that if the PT doesn't work.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Pamela-yes, it was an HBO movie and I do recall Paccino getting the award at the GG. His name was always prominent in Michigan b/c that is where the incidents began.

      Dexter-thanks for reading and commenting. It behooves us to be nonjudgemental and open minded when it comes to these matters. No one can fully understand what another is experiencing when it comes to pain and disease. You're way ahead of the game-two thumbs up for you.

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 

      9 years ago from United States

      Hi Denise! Great information. I think Dr. Kevorkian provided people with an alternative to living with severe pain, dementia, terminal illness and all the problems associated with these. Right or wrong is debatable - but I've seen people with severe pain and depression commit suicide in much more uglier ways than Dr. Kevorkian assisted with.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This is an interesting hub about Kevorkian. I didn't know they were making that movie.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks for such a quick response! LOL I barely got it posted. I'm sorry about your postpartum pain. Have you tried acupuncture? Sometimes that will release the nerve bundle that is the source of the pain. Good luck.

      Re: Hubchallenge. Don't consider yourself behind. The great thing about the hubchallenge is it starts EXACTLY the day of the month that you decide to start. So, if that is mid month--so be it.

      If you are reluctant here's a tip: write a few hubs and hold onto them. Then decide when to start the H.Chg and post those prewritten hubs when you are 'stuck' for an idea of crunched for time. Hope that helps.

    • workingmomwm profile image

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      9 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Nice hub, Denise. After having experienced experienced post-baby pain (sometimes incapacitating) for 4+ months now, I can completely sympathize with the feeling that it would be better to die than to live with constant pain - except for the fact that I would be leaving my husband behind with our two little girls, and I wouldn't want to do that to any of them!

      I see you're trying the hubchallenge again. I thought I would, too, but I'm already 3 behind. Not looking good for me. Good luck!


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