The Kevorkian Papers

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The children were also encouraged to perform well in school, and all three demonstrated high academic intelligence—as the only boy, however, Jack became the focus of Levon and Satenig's high expectations. Jack rose to the occasion easily; even as a young boy, Kevorkian was a voracious reader and academic who loved the arts, including drawing, painting and piano. But along with Jack's academic prowess came a highly critical mind, and he rarely accepted ideas at face value. He engaged in frequent arguments with his teachers at school, sometimes humiliating them when they couldn't keep up with his sharp debate skills. While his jabs at teachers earned admiration from his classmates, learning came so effortlessly to Jack that it often alienated him from his peers. Kevorkian was promoted to Eastern Junior High School when he was in the sixth grade, and by the time he was in high school he had taught himself German and Japanese. Classmates soon labeled him as an eccentric bookworm, and Kevorkian had trouble making friends as a result. He also gave up the idea of romantic relationships, believing them to be an uneccessary diversion from his studies. In 1945, when Kevorkian was only 17, he graduated with honors from Pontiac High School.

Accepted into the University of Michigan College of Engineering, Kevorkian had aims to become a civil engineer. Halfway through his freshman year, however, he became bored with his studies and began focusing on botany and biology. By midyear, he had set his sights on medical school, often taking 20 credit hours in a semester in order to meet the 90-hour medical school requirement. He graduated in medicine at the University of Michigan in 1952, and began a specialty in pathology soon after. In 1953, however, the Korean War abruptly halted Kevorkian's career. He served 15 months as an Army medical officer in Korea, then finished his service in Colorado.

JK_Korea_at_350_small_and_croppedWhile serving his residency at the University of Michigan hospital in the 1950s, Kevorkian became fascinated by death and the act of dying. He made regular visits to terminally ill patients, photographing their eyes in an attempt to pinpoint the exact moment of death. Kevorkian believed that doctors could use the information to distinguish death from fainting, shock or coma in order to learn when resuscitation was useless. "But really, my number one reason was because it was interesting," Kevorkian told reporters later. "And my second reason was because it was a taboo subject."

Not one to avoid distasteful ideas, Kevorkian again caused a stir with colleagues by proposing that death-row prison inmates be used as the subjects of medical experiments while they were still alive. Inspired by research that described medical experiments the ancient Greeks conducted on Egyptian criminals, Kevorkian formulated the idea that similar modern experiments could not only save valuable research dollars, but also provide a glimpse into the anatomy of the criminal mind. In 1958, he advocated his view in a paper presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In a method he called "terminal human experimentation", he argued that condemned convicts could provide a service to humanity before their execution by volunteering for "painless" medical experiments that would begin while they were conscious, but would end in fatality. For his unorthodox experiments and strange proposals, Jack Kevorkian's peers gave him the nickname "Dr. Death."


0 #3 Julie InYourFaceNewYorker 2012-03-23 19:30
Not to be nitpicky, but I believe Dr. Kevorkian's name wasn't officially Murad. It is what his mother called him at home. According to his biography, he was named Jacob but got the name Jack after a teacher misread his birth certificate.

+2 #2 Julie InYourFaceNewYorker 2011-07-13 01:42
What foreign languages did Dr. Kevorkian speak?
+2 #1 Julie InYourFaceNewYorker 2011-05-16 23:56
So many of Dr. Kevorkian's proposals make so much sense. What really sickens me is how the medical community dismissed them, I suppose, because it gave it a creepy feeling up its collective spine. You'd think that SCIENTISTS would be more rational.

As for Kevorkian's eye study, I would find it creepy to see a corpse's eyes, but I would still be able to handle it which is what these doctors should have done. Then the whole thing with the experimentation and organ donation on condemned criminals and euthanasia patients-- that makes so much sense. If I were terminally ill I would opt for experimentation and organ donation under a heavy anesthetic before my death. Even before I learned about this idea, I knew at least that if I die young I want my body donated to medical research-- that is how science advances and I love and respect science-- and care about humanity-- too much not to contribute something. I made this wish clear to my family.


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