COLDWATER, Mich. -- Jack Kevorkian, the former doctor and outspoken flamboyant advocate for assisted suicide, walked out of a prison yesterday after serving eight years for second-degree murder for his role in one death.
Outside a state prison building, Kevorkian, who turned 79 last month, smiled and told reporters that leaving prison was "one of the high points of life" before being ushered away in a white van. His original prison sentence was 10 to 25 years.
Kevorkian will be on parole for two years; one component of his parole was his promise that he would not participate in any future assisted suicides, Michigan prison officials said. That promise does not preclude Kevorkian from speaking in support of physician-assisted suicide, according to Russ Marlan, a spokesman for the state's department of corrections.
"The desire of the parole board was not to infringe on his freedom of speech," said Marlan. "What they don't want is him offering information on how to build the device he has previously used for such things or how to create a system to assist in suicide."
Kevorkian's release sparked a flurry of reaction among those focused on the issues of assisted suicide and dying. When he entered prison in 1999, Kevorkian was viewed by critics as a scary, peculiar symbol of those who favored assisted suicide; some questioned whether the more than 100 ill people he claimed to have helped die were truly capable of making the decision to end their lives. Supporters viewed him as a bold, fearless advocate of a movement intended to spare some terminally ill Americans from gruesome, painful ends.
As he emerged from prison, assisted suicide and death choices - spurred in part by the case of Terri Schiavo in Florida - were still being fought over; in California, legislators are expected to vote on a "Compassionate Choices Act" next week.
Oregon remains the only state in the country with a law that allows a terminally ill patient to ask a doctor to prescribe a lethal amount of medication under certain circumstances. Other states, including Vermont, have rejected such proposals.
Kevorkian must check in with a parole officer every week and is to reside in Bloomfield Hills, where he is expected to live on about $900 a month from a pension and Social Security benefits, Marlan said.
Kevorkian's lawyer, Mayer Morganroth, has said in recent years that his imprisoned client's health was failing. Yesterday, Kevorkian, in a cardigan sweater, appeared frail but said it was "wonderful" to emerge from prison. Before waiting reporters, he smiled and put his hand to his chest in apparent relief.