Al Pacino stars in the TV life story of 'Doctor Death'

Film about Jack Kevorkian reignites debate over issue of assisted suicide

The Michigan physician they used to call "Dr Death" because of his record of helping over 100 patients escape terminal disease through euthanasia – before prosecutors finally put him in prison a decade ago – is back. More than that, he and the issue of assisted suicide will this weekend barge into the front rooms of millions of Americans.

He is Dr Jack Kevorkian, who, three years after being released from prison on condition that he desists from euthanizing anyone else, is not himself on a national tour, even though he is still campaigning for the legalisation of assisted suicide. He is, however, the subject of a major new HBO television film about his life and his quest.

If casting can be a form of flattery, Dr Kevorkian, now 81, must surely be preening. Impishly titled You Don't Know Jack, the film stars Al Pacino in the lead role. Both men were at a private screening of the film in Detroit on Thursday alongside its director, Barry Levinson, whose previous works for the cinema have included Tin Men and Diner.

That the assisted-suicide debate was at its most intense in the US during the 1990s is thanks to Kevorkian. His gaunt looks and arrogant zeal polarised an American public who recognised the possible good in his mission but never warmed to the man. He escaped conviction four times.

Kevorkian was finally found guilty of second-degree murder in March 1999 after attaching Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old man with a terminal neuro-degenerative disease, to his poison-administering contraption he called the Mercitron. He moreover allowed the cameras in so that the passing of Mr Youk became a segment on the weekly CBS TV current affairs magazine, 60 Minutes.

Kevorkian's only reported comment to Mr Levinson after Thursday's first screening was in praise of its "wonderful editing". But if the former doctor holds any hope that the HBO film will reignite national debate on the topic, it will cheer him to read the critics' reviews this weekend. By all accounts it is a deft effort that just manages to navigate between the twin sins of either glamourising or demonising the doctor and the questionable service he was providing.

But while the struggle over euthanasia may have grown noisier in other countries in recent times, not least in Britain, it has by no means ended in the US where only three states currently permit doctor-assisted suicide.

Oregon was the first state to legalise assisted suicide followed by Washington. Most recently, a decision last December by the state Supreme Court in Montana said that there was nothing on the books that exposed doctors to prosecution if they prescribe lethal drugs to a terminally ill person.

The court ruling in Montana was welcomed by Barbara Combs Lee, President of the Compassion and Choice pressure group. "Terminally ill patients are gaining peace of mind knowing they have an option," she said.

If most Americans have fixed opinions on the question of assisted suicide, what they think of Dr Death himself may be about to change. Or so Mr Pacino thinks. "Jack Kevorkian is a person you think you know. But at the end of the story, you find yourself saying, 'He's different than I would have thought he would be'," the actor told reporters.

More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Financial Controller

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is a busy and varied role w...

Senior Business Development Manager

£60-70k fixed, double OTE uncapped: Sphere Digital Recruitment: The Senior Bus...

Ad Operations Executive

30,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: My client is a global name within the ente...

Day In a Page

Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?