Suicide machine – yours for $200k...Dr Death's grisly belongings go on sale

At memorabilia auction of items belonging to Jack Kevorkian, Thanatron device is the top attraction
Click to follow
The Independent US

They may not have known Jack personally, but admirers with deep pockets and morbid persuasions were last night hoping to purchase everything from his hat and cardigan, to the rickety home-made device he created to humanely kill people.

The family of the late Jack Kevorkian, the controversial pathologist nicknamed "Dr Death" for helping dozens of terminally ill patients take their own lives, was to dispose of a colourful selection of his personal effects yesterday at a memorabilia auction.

Among the items on sale at the New York Institute of Technology were Kevorkian's driving licence from his home state of Michigan and a collection of his plastic pill bottles.

But the star lot – expected to fetch between $200,000 and $300,000 – was the famous "Thanatron" machine he designed for assisting suicide.

Clients would hook themselves up to the device – which contained three syringes and several tubes – take a deep breath, and press an electric switch to administer a lethal injection that would kill them in two to four minutes. The machine helped Kevorkian oversee 130-odd suicides, turning him into an international talking point and hero of the "right-to-die" movement.

"My uncle asked every patient, over and over again, 'Do you really want to do this? There is no stop button'," said his niece and heir Ava Janus. She said that the word Thanatron came from combining the Greek words for "death" and "machine", adding that the method was "the least painful way to die".

Kevorkian, who died in June at the age of 83, presided over his first assisted suicide in 1990, when he injected lethal drugs into an Alzheimer's patient in the back of a Volkswagen van.

He spent the ensuing 20 years in and out of court. Legal representatives ensured that his first three prosecutions ended in acquittals and the fourth resulted in a mistrial. But his luck ran out in 1999, when he received a 10- to 25-year sentence for second-degree murder.

A divisive figure – who likened himself to Gandhi and Martin Luther King and called prosecutors "Nazis" – he was widely criticised by religious leaders. Opponents called him a publicity-seeker and said he had a morbid fascination with death.

In 2010, Al Pacino played him in the biopic You Don't Know Jack, and won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the performance.

Kevorkian was released in 2007 on condition that he agreed not to assist in any further suicides – a promise he appeared to have kept.

Even in death his capacity for creating controversy remains. Lawyers were last night attempting to settle a dispute between the physician's estate and the Armenian Library and Museum of America in Massachusetts, over the ownership of 17 paintings by Kevorkian.