Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Controversial Assisted Suicide Advocate, Dies at 83

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Dr. Jack Kevorkian in 1996

Jack Kevorkian, 83, the assisted suicide advocate who ignited a nationwide firestorm of controversy after supervising an admitted 130 deaths, has died, the Detroit Free Press reported Friday.

Kevorkian’s attorney said that the former pathologist, who was heralded by some as moralistic hero and by others as a murderer, succumbed to a blood clot that lodged in his heart early Friday at a suburban Detroit hospital, where he had been treated before for kidney ailments as well as liver and heart problems.

His first publicly acknowledged assisted suicide took place in 1990, but continued well through the decade as proponents and opponents of assisted suicide argued over the morality and ethics of helping the infirm end their suffering. He subsequently was given the moniker “Dr. Death.” He was tried four times with murder, but acquitted in three trials and had a mistrial in a fourth.

(LIST: Dr. Kevorkian from TIME’s archives)

Finally, he was tried for the 1998 death of Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old Michigan man inflicted with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Kevorkian had videotaped himself injecting him with a euthanasia formula administered by a “suicide machine” and later had the clip broadcast on CBS’s 60 Minutes.

In that trial he acted as his own attorney, but was found guilty and sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison. As a condition of his 2005 parole, he pledged never to assist a suicide again, but continued as an advocate for the procedure, maintaining that the American medical establishment was hypocritical for not acknowledging the demand for assisted suicide.

In a 1993 interview with TIME, Kevorkian stated his position regarding the medical establishment:

“At the risk of seeming paranoid: the (American Medical Association) is opposed to this, and all the medical societies,” he said. “But not the average doctor. More than half like it, but they can’t speak because the A.M.A. will come down hard on them. You call this a democracy? Ha! It’s a cryptic totalitarian state.”

(MORE: See the full interview with Dr. Jack Kevorkian)

Since the trial, Oregon, Washington and Montana are the only states to allow medically supervised suicides.

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