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Euthanasia advocate Jack Kevorkian dies

DETROIT -- Jack Kevorkian built his suicide machine with parts from flea markets and stashed it in a rusty Volkswagen.

But it was Kevorkian's audacious attitude that set him apart in the debate over doctor-assisted suicide. The retired pathologist who said he oversaw the deaths of 130 gravely ill people burned state orders against him, showed up at court in costume and dared authorities to stop him or make his actions legal. He didn't give up until he was sent to prison.

Kevorkian, 83, died Friday at a Michigan hospital without seeking the kind of "planned death" that he once offered to others. He insisted suicide with the help of a medical professional was a civil right.

His gaunt, hollow-cheeked appearance gave him a ghoulish, almost cadaverous look and helped earn him the nickname "Dr. Death." But Kevorkian likened himself to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and called physicians who didn't support him "hypocritic oafs." He once said: "Somebody has to do something for suffering humanity. I put myself in my patients' place. This is something I would want."

Kevorkian had been hospitalized since May 18 with pneumonia and kidney problems. He probably suffered from a pulmonary blood clot, according to friend and attorney Mayer Morganroth.

Kevorkian's flamboyant former attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, believes Kevorkian would have taken advantage of doctor-assisted suicide if it had been available.

David Gorcyca, the former Michigan prosecutor whose office convicted Kevorkian of second-degree murder, said he found a trace of hypocrisy in the death. "I assumed that someday he'd commit suicide and tape it and air it for the world to see," Gorcyca said.

Despite Kevorkian's efforts, few states 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.

Those who sought his help typically had cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease, multiple sclerosis or paralysis. He made headlines in 1990 when he used his machine to inject lethal drugs into an Alzheimer's patient. 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. The Legislature wrote one in response. He also was stripped of his medical license.

Devotees filled courtrooms wearing "I Back Jack" buttons. Critics questioned his headline-grabbing methods, which were aided by Fieger, until the two parted ways before the 1999 trial in which he was sent to prison.

Kevorkian acted as his own lawyer. In his closing argument, he said some acts "by sheer common sense are not crimes." "Just look at me," he told jurors. "Honestly now, do you see a criminal? Do you see a murderer?"

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

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