The Two-Way
2:18 pm
Fri June 3, 2011

Kevorkian Flashback: The Day He Sent A Chill Up Don Gonyea's Spine

Today's news about the death of Dr. Jack Kevorkian — "Dr. Death," the champion of the right to assisted suicide for the terminally ill — brings back a memory for NPR's Don Gonyea.

As Don reported for Weekend Edition Sunday in June 2007, he interviewed Kevorkian on June 5, 1990. That was one day after 54-year-old Janet Adkins became the first person to use one of Kevorkian's homemade suicide machines.

Here's how Don remembers the encounter:

"The suicide took place on a cot in the back of Kevorkian's Volkswagen van. Early the next morning, I found the doctor in his tiny Royal Oak, Mich.,. apartment. He was anxious to talk. He shared the details of Adkins' death, how he told her have a good trip, moments before she passed.

"At one point I said, 'I've done a very impromptu survey.' I had asked everyone I'd seen since I heard the news what they thought. Some said they were appalled. Some supported him. But I noted that even some of those who were sympathetic still said that they saw him as kind of a Dr. Frankenstein character.

"I expected him to respond by saying: 'Well, we're dealing with death. People are uncomfortable and they'll say things like that.'

"Instead, Kevorkian leaned in very close — about six inches from my face. 'Have you read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,' he asked?

"I nodded that I had.

"He said 'then you know that Frankenstein wasn't the monster; society was the monster.'

"I tried to maintain eye contact while slowly stealing a glimpse at my tape recorder to make sure I'd actually capture the line. I thought to myself: 'technically correct, doctor, but how's this going to sound on the radio tonight?'

"I confess feeling a bit of a chill up my spine.

"Now, over the years I gathered a lot of outrageous quotes from Dr. Kevorkian. But somehow that line, that first day, really does capture the guy for me."

Don is due to be on tomorrow's broadcast of Weekend Edition Saturday to share more thoughts about Kevorkian.

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