In doing so, Jack Kevorkian inflamed a nationwide debate in the 1990s over a terminally ill patient's right to die. And he served eight years in prison for second-degree murder for administering the lethal injection rather than helping the patient do it himself.
"You don't know what will happen when you get older," he said in a 1998 interview with "60 Minutes." "I may end up terribly suffering. I want some colleague to be free to come and help me when I say the time has come. That's why I'm fighting, for me. And if it helps everybody else, so be it."
In the end, Kevorkian's own death early Friday came pain-free and peacefully in a hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. He was 83.
Kevorkian had been hospitalized for pneumonia and kidney problems last month for four days and returned about a week later. He developed pulmonary thrombosis late Thursday, said Mayer Morganroth, Kevorkian's lawyer and friend.
During Kevorkian's final hours in the intensive care unit, the music of his favorite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, was played over a computer.
"We did it because we knew it would make him happy," Morganroth said.
Kevorkian said he assisted in the suicides of more than 130 people from 1990 to 1998.
From the beginning, his actions thrust the right-to-die issue into the national spotlight, with Kevorkian at the center of what Time magazine called "a media barrage that ricocheted from 'Crossfire' to 'Nightline,' 'Good Morning America' to 'Geraldo.' "
"I'm trying to knock the medical profession into accepting its responsibilities, and those responsibilities include assisting their patients with death," Kevorkian told reporters at the time.
Derek Humphry, executive director of the Hemlock Society, a right-to-die group that supports the concept of doctor-assisted suicide, told The Times in 1990: "If we are free people at all, then we must be free to choose the manner of our death."
Critics challenging Kevorkian on moral and procedural grounds were equally vocal.
"What he did is like veterinary medicine," Dr. John Finn, medical director of the Hospice of Southeastern Michigan in suburban Detroit, told The Times in 1990. "When you take your pet to the vet, he puts the pet to sleep. I think human beings are more complicated than that. I think he should have his license revoked."
Dr. Melvin Kirschner, co-chairman of the joint committee on medical ethics of the Los Angeles County Medical Assn. and the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., complained in a 1990 Times interview: "Kevorkian did this without any guidelines whatsoever. Physicians cannot just, willy-nilly, assist someone in killing themselves."
In 1997, Oregon became the first state to implement a law that allowed mentally competent, terminally ill patients to request lethal medications from their physicians; Washington and Montana have followed suit.
Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old Portland, Ore., mother of three adult sons in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and unwilling to let it progress further, was the first of Kevorkian's assisted suicides.
When Adkins and her husband, Ronald, met with Kevorkian in Michigan, he already had begun receiving media attention for his untested "suicide machine," a homemade device he called the "mercitron."
On June 4, 1990, as Ronald Adkins waited in a motel room, Kevorkian's sisters, Flora Holzheimer and Margo Janus, drove Janet Adkins to Groveland Oaks County Park, where Kevorkian was waiting for her in his rusty white 1968 Volkswagen van.