Ill man died humanely, Dr. Kevorkian testifies

April 28, 1994|By New York Times News Service

DETROIT -- Taking the stand for more than three hours yesterday in his trial for assisting a suicide, Dr. Jack Kevorkian steadfastly defended helping a 30-year-old man die last summer and said his aim was only to relieve the man's suffering.

"Any physician who is a real physician would care for nothing, nothing, nothing other than the welfare of his patient," the 65-year-old retired pathologist said of helping Thomas W. Hyde commit suicide in the back of Dr. Kevorkian's Volkswagen van on Aug. 4, 1993.

The act was a deliberate challenge to a Michigan law that makes assisting in a suicide a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.

"I didn't want Mr. Hyde to die, just as a surgeon doesn't want to cut off a leg" if it is cancerous, said Dr. Kevorkian. "I wanted to help him end his suffering."

Dr. Kevorkian's testimony filled most of the third day of his trial in the death of Mr. Hyde, a landscape worker who was in the final stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a degenerative nerve disorder that is always fatal.

Several medical experts testified earlier that Mr. Hyde would have strangled to death on his own saliva had he not committed suicide.

Dr. Kevorkian, who has helped 20 people commit suicide since 1990, admits placing a mask over Mr. Hyde's face and giving the nearly paralyzed man a string to pull to release a flow of carbon monoxide gas into his lungs.

Dr. Kevorkian's lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, is trying to take advantage of a provision in Michigan's assisted-suicide law that says it does not apply to procedures "if the intent is to relieve pain and discomfort and not to cause death, even if the procedure may hasten or increase the risk of death."

When Timothy Kenny, an assistant Wayne County prosecutor, tried in lengthy cross-examination to get Dr. Kevorkian to admit that he knew the carbon monoxide would cause Mr. Hyde's death, the doctor said, "I had a fairly good idea that he would die, but my expectation was that his suffering would end."

Prosecutors argue that the medication clause in the suicide law was meant to apply only to medication, not to carbon monoxide, which can be used only as a poison.

On Tuesday, Mr. Kenny repeatedly pressed Dr. Stanley Levy, a prominent Detroit internist, to say that carbon monoxide was not a recognized medicine.

But Dr. Levy said, "I think the procedure was a heroic effort on Dr. Kevorkian's part to control pain and suffering which was otherwise out of control."

He went on to call what happened in Dr. Kevorkian's van an innovative effort "that others would not have thought of, what you might call a kind of New Age hospice care."

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