HOLLY, Mich. -- A woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease killed herself by pushing a button on a doctor's 'suicide machine,' and the inventor, who watched the woman die in his van, is under investigation, officials said Tuesday.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian, 62, a retired Royal Oak, Mich., pathologist, hooked Janet Adkins, 54, of Portland, Ore., to the device Monday afternoon in his van at a park about 50 miles northwest of Detroit. He then notified state police, who called in prosecutors.
Oakland County Prosecutor Richard Thompson said late Tuesday he would seek an injunction to prevent further use of the device, but would withhold any charges pending an investigation of up to two months.
The machine consists of a rack containing three bottles of liquid which, combined, make up deadly potassium chloride. Tubes from each bottle join into one, which supplies the deadly mixture intravenously into the patient. The fatal dose is administered when a button is pushed.
Adkins died five or six minutes after she pressed the button on the device, which is similar to those used by some states for capital punishment.
'I feel I haven't broken any laws,' Kevorkian said. 'I'm prepared for any charge they want to bring. I'll follow what the law says.'
But he was not confident that prosecutors will approach his case fairly. 'Emotions will dictate what they will do, not law,' he said.
Thompson said he seek the injunction against use of the machine on Wednesday in Oakland County Circuit Court. The prosecutor said the Michigan Supreme Court held in 1920 that assisting in suicide is first-degree murder, but that the Michigan Court of Appeals rendered a contrary opinion in 1983.
'As you know, this case presents signicant medical, ethical and legal issues which we can not decide until a full investigation has been completed,' Thompson said.
Thompson said the fact that Adkins had Alzheimer's disease could present a special problem, because its victims with advanced forms of the degenerative disease may be incompetent to choose to end their lives. Alzheimer's kills brain cells and often leaves its victims severely disoriented.
The prosecutor declined to link the case to right-to-die issues or compare Kevorkian's device with suicide recipes offered by the Hemlock Society, which promotes suicide rights of people suffering from terminal diseases. 'My objective is to enforce the law,' he said.
Thompson said a state police investigation would take two weeks, but toxicology reports may not be available for two months.
Kevorkian said Adkins was the first patient to use the device.
'Once she pushed the button, she was unconscious in 25 seconds,' he said. 'After she lost consciousness, she was dead in five or six minutes.'
After Adkins died in Kevorkian's van in Goveland Oaks County Park east of Holly, Mich., he immediately called the state police and the Oakland County Prosecutor's office, Kevorkian said. Troopers confiscated the van and the suicide device.
Kevorkian said he chose the park for the suicide because he was unable to find any other facility -- such as a hospital, clinic, nursing home, church or funeral home -- that would accommodate them.
'She was very, very desirous of the option,' Kevorkian said. 'She was the calmest person. ... She was just aching to get this done.'
Kevorkian said Adkins, her husband, Ron, and a family friend flew to Michigan last weekend because providing the means to commit suicide is a felony in Oregon. 'Her three sons also knew she was coming here to commit suicide, and they agreed with her decision but they didn't want to come along,' he said.
Kevorkian said neither Adkins' husband nor the family friend wanted to be present when Adkins committed suicide, so they flew back to Oregon on Monday.
Kevorkian said Adkins did not want to live with the ravages of Alzheimer's disease. 'She was a housewife who traveled extensively,' he said. 'She taught English part time. She played the piano. But the disease took away her ability to read music. She couldn't even spell any more.
'She told me she wanted to take her life while she was still clear in her mind and knew what she was doing,' the doctor said. 'She said she wanted to do it before she slipped into a vegetative state.'
Kevorkian said Adkins contacted him in October when she learned about his device. He said he urged her to try an experimental drug treatment in Seattle in an attempt to put the disease into remission.
'At first I was not going to let her use the device,' Kevorkian said. 'But the Seattle treatment didn't work. She told me she had pills and she was going to (commit suicide) anyway. She just wanted to be sure and, medically, my device is much better than putting a sack over your head or trying to drown yourself. I consider this a doctor-assisted suicide.'
He said family members requested that her body be cremated so they could scatter her ashes in the Pacific Ocean.
'The last thing Janet Adkins said was, 'You just make my case known,'' Kevorkian said.