B O S T O N, Dec. 6, 2000 -- An analysis of 69 assisted
suicides supervised by Dr. Jack Kevorkian has concluded that 75
percent of his patients were not terminally ill when he helped
them to die, and that autopsies could not confirm any physical
disease in five of the cases.
The study’s findings were reported in a letter to the NewEngland Journal of Medicine and were made available today.
The journal, which will be published on Thursday, said ateam led by Lori A. Roscoe of the University of South Floridaat Tampa looked at the characteristics of people who died withKevorkian’s assistance in Oakland County, Mich., between 1990and 1998.
Kevorkian, who helped more than 100 people commit suicide,is serving a prison sentence of 10 to 25 years in Michigan. Hewas convicted of second degree murder in April 1999 in a trialthat followed an appearance on national television in which headministered a lethal injection to Thomas Youk, a 52-year-oldman suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, and dared the criminaljustice system to stop him.
Kevorkian’s attorney, Mayer Morganroth, dismissed thestudy.
“All they’re doing is repeating allegations made by thepro-life people,” he told Reuters. “They’re not really of anyreal substance, and they’re not really accurate or true.”
Kevorkian Attorney Dismissed Study
He also attacked the authors, pointing out that Roscoe andanother person involved were not medical doctors, and that athird person involved, Oakland County medical examiner L.J.Dragovic, had testified numerous times against Kevorkian andthe two men were “bitter enemies.”
“Anything [Dragovic] says has to be discounted,” Morganrothsaid.
Morganroth questioned how the team was able to study 69deaths when few of the people Kevorkian has helped have beenidentified.
“I don’t know how they got 69 [people] because it just sohappens they don’t know who most of them are,” he said. “Thatalready destroys their credibility because I don’t thinkanybody has the names of more than 15.”
The study’s findings seemed to suggest divorcees or peoplewho had never married were more likely to turn to doctor-assisted suicide in theabsence of safeguards.
Roscoe and her colleagues said “persons who were divorcedor had never married were overrepresented among those who diedwith Kevorkian’s help, suggesting the need for a betterunderstanding of the familial and psychosocial context ofdecision making at the end of life.”
More Women Than Men Wanted Death
They said only 17 of the 69 patients were found afterautopsy to be terminally ill and likely to live less than sixmonths.
The wish of the other 52 people to get help from Kevorkianmight be explained by the fact that “72 percent of the patientshad had a recent decline in health status that may haveprecipitated the desire to die,” the researchers said.
Of the 69 patients, 71 percent were women, which “isnoteworthy because suicide rates are usually lower among womenthan among men,” they concluded.
The Roscoe team only looked at the Michigan cases becausethe procedures of medical examiners in other states may havevaried.
Morganroth said that Kevorkian, in the cases he hasacknowledged, consulted the doctors of people who asked for hishelp in dying. He said Kevorkian sent those people topsychiatrists and added that his client had talked severalpeople who were not terminally ill out of suicide.