By Geoffrey Nels Fieger
I first met Dr. Jack Kevorkian on a sweltering Saturday afternoon in August 1990. He was about to be charged with the murder of his first patient, Janet Adkins. There, staring at me from across my desk, was a frail-looking man dressed in a powder blue Cardigan sweater.
His sister, Margo, dressed in a wig and a house coat, was with him. I believed at first that Margo was the more commanding of the two, and initially Margo carried the conversation. The only unusual characteristic about Jack seemed to be his intensity. It didn’t take long to realize that this small Armenian physician was a giant man of courage and conviction. He was one of the most courageous men I have met in my lifetime. He was a rare human being — an individual who didn’t seek history, but made history.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian as a human being was brilliant intellectually, opinionated and had a boundless energy for confronting social hypocrisy. I liked that. He was a perfect client for me. In another sense he was the most difficult challenge I ever faced. No one else — not governors, judges, prosecutors, not the media, rabbis or cardinals — no one else presented a greater challenge to me than Dr. Jack himself.
It was not that he was self-destructive, but he was impatient with the pace of social change and he was absolutely convinced of the correctness of his actions. In a matter of moments, he went from a disinterested participant in his own legal defense to a passionate advocate for suffering people. Before anyone even coined the phrase “assisted suicide,” he sat across from me and talked about what he did as though it was a right every patient had, and a duty every physician shared.
Jack Kevorkian did what he believed to be right, and he had the moral conviction and the courage to stand up to constant threats of violence and imprisonment. That is a rare human being. Together, we planned a defense of human rights, and he was more than willing to sacrifice himself for that cause.
I wondered if the man sitting across from me knew what he was facing. He didn’t, but that wouldn’t matter. The one thing he did know was that he had a responsibility to relieve the suffering of his patients, and that was what he was going to do. Men like that change society — they make history.
As the result of this little, Armenian doctor, patients are no longer left to suffer until they die. As a result of what Jack did, we now recognize the right of every person to self-determination based on their own conscience and without government interference. As the result of that fateful meeting, my life has been changed. For a moment in time, I was involved in changing the course of history.
Bloomfield Hills attorney Geoffrey Fieger represented Jack Kevorkian in his most celebrated trials.