Corrections Department spokesman Russ Marlan said the parole board took the 78-year-old Kevorkian's declining health into consideration, along with the question of whether the former pathologist would be a danger to society if he were set free.
"They decide if he is safe for release. And in the decision of the parole board, he is," Marlan said.
Over the summer, Kevorkian's lawyer said that Kevorkian was suffering from hepatitis C and diabetes, that his weight had dropped to 113 pounds and that he had less than a year to live. Last Thursday, Kevorkian promised the parole board he would not take part in another suicide if released.
"I think they believed him that he would never do it again," his attorney Mayer Morganroth said Wednesday. "I think they understand he is not well, that he should be treated at a proper facility outside prison."
Kevorkian, once the nation's most vocal advocate of assisted suicide, had been turned down for early release four times, but was scheduled to come up for parole for the first time in June.
He is serving a 10- to 25-year sentence for second-degree murder for helping to give a lethal dose of drugs in 1998 to Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old man with Lou Gehrig's disease whose death was videotaped and shown on 60 Minutes.
Kevorkian, who claimed to have assisted in at least 130 suicides in the 1990s, called it a mercy killing. He was sent to prison in 1999. He was credited with a year and nine months for good behavior.
Morganroth said he will ask Gov. Jennifer Granholm to speed up Kevorkian's release. He said Kevorkian recently fell and cracked two ribs while being transported to a prison hospital in ankle chains.
"I'd like to see him have a comfortable existence in the time he has left," the lawyer said, adding that Kevorkian plans to live with friends in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham after his release.
Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca, whose office won the conviction that sent Kevorkian to prison, said he didn't object to the decision to parole him. "I'm certainly not particularly surprised, just due to his alleged health concerns," he said.
During a pre-parole interview Thursday with parole board Chairman John Rubitschun, Kevorkian acknowledged that what he did was wrong, according to Marlan, who sat in on the meeting. "He said, `Legally it was wrong. It was an infraction of the law. I had to do it that way or so I thought,"' Marlan said.
Now that Oregon has a law on the books allowing assisted suicide in certain cases, Kevorkian said he sees that he should have worked on a legislative solution, rather than trying to go through the courts, the department spokesman said.
"I assumed it was a constitutional issue of choice," Kevorkian was quoted as saying. "I learned the best way to approach this issue is at the legislative level."
Although Morganroth insisted his client is in very poor health, Marlan said Kevorkian "looked as healthy as a 78-year-old man can be." Marlan said Kevorkian said he tried to walk a mile a day around the prison track each morning and afternoon, although his lawyer called that "impossible."
Marlan said Kevorkian assured Rubitschun he won't commit any more crimes.
"Anything that will bring me back to prison I will avoid," the spokesman quoted him as saying. "Prison is no place to live."