Video: Kevorkian speaks out

msnbc.com
updated 10/5/2005 1:47:08 PM ET 2005-10-05T17:47:08

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, known as Dr. Death to some, was convicted for murder in 1999 after conducting highly publicized assisted suicides.  By his own admission, Kevorkian assisted in approximately 130 patient deaths before he entered prison.

In his first full interview since the conviction, Kevorkian talked to MSNBC-TV's Rita Cosby from jail.  They discussed right-to-die legislation, the Terri Schiavo case, his biggest regrets, and what he plans to after serving time.

RITA COSBY, LIVE & DIRECT HOST: How are you doing?  We haven't really heard from you in about seven years.  Have you been keeping a low profile by design?

DR. JACK KEVORKIAN, SERVING JAIL TIME FOR ASSISTED SUICIDE: Oh, it's partly my wish and partly my attorney's recommendation.  And I think it was correct.  I personally didn't want to sound like a huckster, talking about it all the time.

COSBY: I understand you've had some interesting roommates in the past.  One was a convicted murderer.  You're 77-years-old, you're 145 pounds.  How is that for you?

KEVORKIAN: Oh, I don't mind.  You meet some of these inmates who have been convicted for murder and you'd never know it unless you find out by asking them.  Many of them aren't the stereotype murderer.

COSBY: How do the other inmates react towards you?  I would imagine you're pretty high-profile.

KEVORKIAN: Many of them are fairly respectful of me, quite respectful, in fact.  Several dislike intensely what I was doing to get in here.

COSBY: You're eligible for parole in 2007, but you plan to ask the governor to commute your sentence. If the governor is watching right now, what would you want to say to her, Dr. Kevorkian?

KEVORKIAN: I would very much request a commutation.  I think the seriousness of my so-called crime, I think seven years is plenty, considering the fact that I guess as far as I know, I'm the only physician who has done this and was sent to prison.  Several other physicians in history were either given probation or community service.  But I'm the only one that went to prison.  I think that's punishment enough.

COSBY: Now, if your sentence isn't moved up and if you do get paroled in 2007, what do you plan to do when you get out?

KEVORKIAN: Well, one thing, I'd like to travel a little bit, visit my sister overseas, and visit many friends.  But as far as the activity goes, I have said publicly and officially that I will not perform that act again when I get out.  What I'll do is what I should have done earlier, is pursue this from a legal standpoint by campaigning to get the laws changed. 

COSBY: Will you encourage other doctors to perform assisted suicide?

KEVORKIAN: Not until it's legal.

COSBY: Not until it’s legal

KEVORKIAN: Yes

COSBY: You finally agreed to share your life story in a book and also a movie.  Both are expected to come out some time next year.  Why did you think it's important to tell your story now? 

KEVORKIAN: Well, I know the people who were doing it.  And when you get a request to do it, it's just to help them out.  Because I lose nothing by helping them out.  I thought if I refused that it would be rather selfish.

COSBY: What actor would you like to play you?  I know one of the producers was saying Ben Kingsley is a possibility. 

KEVORKIAN: He's a great actor.  And beside that, He carries the implication of Gandhi, which is okay with me also.

COSBY: Now Oregon currently is the only state in the country which has assisted suicide laws, even though the U.S. Department of Justice is trying to overturn that.  But California and Vermont also have put steps in work with the possibility of it becoming law.  What would you want to say to those three states?

KEVORKIAN: The Oregon law is fine as far as it goes.  But it's restricted.  There are some patients who can never get that service because they cannot swallow.  And a doctor cannot perform the act.  It should be, first of all, legalized only for physicians as a medical service, not for laymen, not for family members or friends to help someone die because doctors are the only ones who are justifiable in determining the health status of the patient.

COSBY: Do you hope ultimately that every state in the country has such a law in the books?

KEVORKIAN: Yes.  I think it should be fairly uniform in all the states.  Doing it now with this limited restriction, that's fine.  That's a step in the right direction, because it helps many patients

COSBY: Now, the Terri Schiavo case certainly sort of accelerated the right-to-die debate.  Do you think after watching it that America has sort of changed its mood toward what you did?

KEVORKIAN: If they're rational, I think they would.  Because first of all, if that's considered a good way to end a suffering patient's life — which is true today.  Medical profession endorses that, religion endorses it.  Well then if you did that for condemned criminals, how far would you get?  It would take about two seconds for the court to strike it down as cruel and unusual.  And yet, all these officials, all the authorities who said, "Yes, she should be allowed to die," they chose that as a humane method, which no condemned person has to undergo?

COSBY: Now, had it been 10 years ago, would you have considered Terri Schiavo to be a potential patient of yours?

KEVORKIAN: It could qualify because the husband was next of kin, legally.  And that's all that counts because you can't have interference by family members who might be antagonistic or hostile.  The next thing is, the medical profession had declared her to be hopeless.  That means there'd be nothing done to help her.  After all that long period of time in a coma, I think she would qualify.

COSBY: Now, by your own admission, you assisted in about 130 people dying.  Some of your critics have said you played God, that you're a killer.  What do you say to that?

KEVORKIAN: Well, I guess it's technically correct.  But the act of ending a life is dependent entirely upon the motive.  How about a doctor who opens a chest wide open on a patient for a heart operation?  Isn't that gross mayhem?  And mayhem is a crime.

COSBY: Are you a killer?

KEVORKIAN: Well, I don't know.  I suppose, if helping a patient die is killing, I suppose I'm a killer.  But so is every soldier in Iraq now a killer.

COSBY: Do you still hope, Dr. Kevorkian, that your issue goes before the Supreme Court at some point in your lifetime?

KEVORKIAN: Yes, I do.  I think the Supreme Court does have the authority, which is not used, to declare a blanket right for all people, all adults.  But it must be a right for the medical profession to perform.  In that case, it's covered by law automatically because law doesn't tell doctors how to do kidney and heart transplants.  They just say, "You've got to act professionally, correctly, according to your ethics."  That's all law says.  And it's up to the doctors, once it's legalized, to get together and the guidelines, like they do with every medical procedure.

COSBY: Do you have any regrets?  Was it worth going to prison for all of this?

KEVORKIAN: Well, I do a little.  It was disappointing because what I did turned out to be in vain, even though I know it could possibly end that way.  And my only regret was not having done it through the legal system, through legislation, possibly.

Watch 'Rita Cosby Live & Direct' each night at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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