Kevorkian Will Not Assist In Any Suicides

After More Than 8 Years In Prison, Kevorkian Says Assisted Suicide "Should Be Legal"

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Jack Kevorkian, who's now 79 years old, was released from prison this past Friday after more than eight years behind bars. He had been convicted of murder for ending the life of a terminally ill man, Tom Youk, even though Youk and his family had begged Kevorkian to do it.

Back in 1998, Kevorkian gave 60 Minutes a tape he had made of Youk's final minutes, and we aired part of it on the broadcast.

Kevorkian wanted to force prosecutors to charge him because he believed that by winning in court he could make euthanasia legal — that is, death by doctor at the request of a terminally ill patient. But he didn't get the verdict he had expected.

Well now, as a free man, will Kevorkian continue his crusade? To find out, Mike Wallace and a 60 Minutes team flew last Friday to the prison in Coldwater, Mich., for his release.

He says he's looking forward to quiet nights without snoring cellmates. And as Kevorkian and Wallace drove out of the prison, the doctor never looked back.

Kevorkian admits he has waited a long time for his release, yet he says he doesn't feel like a freeman. Asked to explain, Kevorkian says, "This is a virtual tether. Parole is a virtual tether.

And he will be tethered to his parole for two years, with restrictions designed to prevent him from promoting or participating in assisted suicide.

"I can't talk in detail about the procedure or advocate a procedure, especially with individuals," he explains.

He says he cannot offer counsel to anybody or advise people how to commit suicide. And he cannot be present at a suicide or euthanasia.

"Without violating your parole, Jack, what do you do to continue your crusade for assisted suicide and euthanasia?" Wallace asks.

"Well," Kevorkian says, "I'm going to work with activist groups trying to get it legalized. And putting my voice in with theirs to legalize it whenever I can. Either through legislatures or through courts if possible."

"What would you do if a desperate person comes to you, Jack Kevorkian, and says, 'I need help,' someone terminally ill who comes to you in terrible pain, wants you to lead them out of their misery? What do you tell them?" Wallace asks.

"Well, it would be painful for me but I'd have to refuse 'em. Because I gave my word that I won't do it again," Kevorkian says.

It was one of the conditions he agreed to to get out of prison. What got him into prison was the tape of Tom Youk.

Youk led an active life; he restored and raced vintage cars. But at the age 50 he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, a devastating, incurable illness that destroyed his muscles. He lost the use of his legs and then his arms. His family says he was in terrible pain, had trouble breathing and swallowing, and was choking on his own saliva. So they wrote Dr. Kevorkian, who lived nearby, and he videotaped his first meeting with Tom.

"Trying to talk to Tom, you learned how bad he was. He couldn't also make intelligible words barely intelligible," Kevorkian told Wallace in 1998. "And you could see him breathing, gasping, leaning back every time he tried to talk. He couldn't utter more than a few syllables at a time because of the weak muscles. And he was terrified of choking. Terrified!"

In that interview nine years ago, Kevorkian told 60 Minutes he had helped more than 100 people die by having the patient pull the switch to start the lethal drugs flowing. And Tom Youk could have done that. But this time, Kevorkian suggested that he give Youk a lethal injection. He said that was more reliable and more humane and he wanted to push the public debate from doctor assisted suicide to euthanasia.

"This is better than assisted suicide. I explained that to him. It's better control. And then, he did agree," Kevorkian said.

Asked by Wallace how he knows Tom Youk agreed, Kevorkian said, "I had him sign, saying that he chose direct injection. And he signed it."