Dying 'Dr. Death' Has Second Thoughts About Assisting Suicides

ByABC News
May 26, 2006, 11:27 AM

May 26, 2006 — -- Today, on his 78th birthday, Jack Kevorkian, the man known as "Dr. Death," is slowly dying in prison.

And, according to his lawyer, Kevorkian seems to have second thoughts about helping people die.

For years, Kevorkian was the center of a national debate around the highly controversial questions surrounding physician-assisted suicide or "mercy killing:" Do the terminally ill have the right to choose when and how they die? Do doctors have the ability, even an obligation, to help them die as they choose?

Now, as he sits in jail, Kevorkian may have had a change of heart -- not about his dedication to the "death with dignity" movement, but on how he went about promoting it.

Specifically, his lawyer suggests, he questions the more than 100 suicides he said he assisted throughout the 1990s. One assisted suicide -- the death of Lou Gehrig's disease patient Thomas Youk, which was taped and broadcast on "60 Minutes" in 1998 -- earned him a prison sentence of 15 years to 20 years for second degree murder.

"He did what he did, and it brought it to public awareness [of physician-assisted suicide]," said Kevorkian's attorney, Mayer Morganroth. "He now realizes that having performed it when it was against the law, wasn't the, probably, appropriate way to go about it. What he should have done was work towards its legalization verbally. Pursuing that cause, and not performing it because it still was against the law."

These days, Kevorkian resides in Michigan's Lakeland Correctional Facility. Less than a week ago, Morganroth publicly stated that doctors had told Kevorkian he had less than a year to live.

Kevorkian suffers from Hepatitis C, which he contracted during service in Vietnam. Morganroth said Kevorkian's liver enzyme levels were three to four times above normal -- a clear signal his liver was failing.

In light of his failing health, Kevorkian has requested a commutation of his sentence, a pardon that would get him released from prison. Under the conditions of his current sentence, he is not eligible for parole until June 1, 2007, but he can apply for a commutation on medical grounds before then.