‘Dr Death’ machine, memorabilia go on sale

2011-10-28 07:17

New York – The machine used by the late Dr Jack Kevorkian, popularly dubbed “Doctor Death”, in his campaign to help people commit suicide will go on sale in New York today.

The deceptively simple device, essentially consisting of three syringes and an electric switch, is expected to sell for between $200 000 and $300 000 (between R1.5 million and R2.3 million) when it goes under the hammer at the New York Institute of Technology.

It is the most startling item in a collection of Kevorkian’s belongings that includes often ghoulish paintings as well as mundane memorabilia, including a blue cardigan, a mobile phone and a flute.

What Kevorkian liked to call his “Thanatron,” combining the Greek words for death and machine, was used to end the lives of more than 100 gravely ill people, turning the doctor into one of America’s most polarising figures.

His niece, Ava Janus, proudly showed the seemingly rickety assembly of tubes and wires to an AFP journalist yesterday.Two intravenous tubes were attached to the person committing suicide. Before an initial dose rendered the person unconscious, he or she would be able, with one finger, to press the switch that unleashed the lethal ingredient.

“My uncle asked every patient, over and over again: ‘Do you really want to do this?’” said Janus, who is a music director at a church in Michigan. “There’s no stop button.”

Death took between two and four minutes and it was “the least painful way to die,” said Janus, a flamboyant woman with curly red hair and bright red lipstick.

Kevorkian died in June this year, aged 83. He claimed he had actively helped 130 people to die, and he spent more than eight years in jail after being convicted of the murder of a man whose videotaped assisted suicide was aired on national television.

Despite outspoken opposition to Kevorkian’s campaign, many people who were sick begged him to help them die, forcing the United States to confront the ethical issues surrounding how best to treat the pain and suffering of the terminally ill.

Auctioneer Adam Hunter conceded that “the average person” might find Kevorkian memorabilia distasteful. He also said that the paintings, many of which depict gruesome scenes of death and mutilation, were not to everyone’s taste.

One depicts a a flower growing from the eye socket of a skull. Another shows Father Christmas’s boot crushing a baby as it comes down the chimney.

“Some people it blows away and some people it makes upset,” he said. However, he said many were grateful to a man who sought to end suffering.

“Half an hour ago I got an email from someone who said ‘thank you for doing this for such a misunderstood person.’”

Janus said her uncle had been “a very warm-hearted” person with a “very good sense of humour”. Proceeds from the auction will go to Janus and to a child cancer charity.

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