Jack Kevorkian portrayed himself to jurors Friday as a deeply compassionate doctor who tries to talk his suffering patients out of suicide and sheds tears when they choose death anyway.
“It’s my unwavering policy to constantly question the patient…almost to the point of nagging, that they not go on with the procedure,” Kevorkian, 67, testified at his assisted-suicide trial.
The retired pathologist is charged with helping two people kill themselves in 1993. He could get up to four years in prison on each count.
Under questioning from defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger, Kevorkian insisted his intent in helping patients commit suicide is to relieve their pain and suffering, not to see them die.
“Have you ever wanted a patient to die?” Fieger asked.
“Never,” Kevorkian said.
A key issue is whether Kevorkian intended to cause death when he arranged for the two patients to breathe carbon monoxide through a mask. The law allows a doctor to administer medication or procedures that may hasten death, so long as the intent is to relieve pain or discomfort and not to cause death.
Kevorkian testified in the afternoon that he has never taken money for aiding a suicide or tried to profit from his fame.
“It might be a dishonor to the profession to do that,” he said. Since his retirement, he said, he has lived on savings, Social Security and a pension of about $900 a month.
Kevorkian also took the stand during the only other time he stood trial for an assisted suicide, in 1994. He was acquitted.
Kevorkian, who acknowledges assisting 27 suicides, testified Friday that he often cries when a patient dies in his presence, even though he was trained as a doctor not to let his emotions get to him.
“Is it my intent for them to die when tears are streaming down my cheeks?” he asked. “It’s not nice to see a human life ended. But when the agony’s ended, it ameliorates what I feel.”
Fieger asked Kevorkian why he risks prosecution.
“It’s empathy and doing what I’m supposed to do,” he said, apologizing to jurors for getting momentarily choked up. “I’m not as tough as I look. I’m sensitive.”
Kevorkian, whose testimony is scheduled to continue Monday, is charged in the deaths of Dr. Ali Khalili, 61, of Oak Brook, Ill., and Merian Frederick, 72, of Ann Arbor. Khalili had bone cancer; Frederick had Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“My desire is to aid this suffering human being as I would any suffering entity,” he said. “When I wince at the suffering, I must do something. Even if I didn’t wince, as a physician, I must do something.”
Kevorkian said he turns down many patients who come to him: “I talk to them and convince them to go on with further treatment or something else, and I’m delighted when they turn away.”