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You Don't Know Jack

Detroit, 1987. On a visit to a facility treating elderly patients, Dr. Jack Kevorkian is reminded of the pain his mother endured before her death. Poring over books on euthanasia at the library, he begins considering the efficacy of assisted suicide, discussing the idea with friends like Neal (who runs a medical-supply store), before collecting flea-market parts and building a “Mercitron” suicide machine.

He visits a paraplegic, David Rivlin, who has asked to be taken off life support, but Jack is thrown out of the hospital. Later, he talks with Jack Lessenberry, a reporter for the Detroit Free Press, telling him about his cause, and adding that he seeks no fees for his services. After Lessenberry’s story is picked up nationally (a story on Jack even appears in Newsweek), Jack and his sister Margo debate whether Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, should be Jack’s first patient. Having recorded Adkins’ wishes on camera, Jack sits in on a meeting of the Eastern Michigan Chapter of the Hemlock Society chaired by Chapter founder Janet Good. The two chat after the meeting about Jack’s intentions to assist Adkins with her suicide, and Good offers her home as a place to perform the procedure. When she gets cold feet, an angry Jack sets up his VW camper as a mobile suicide unit in a park, and Adkins becomes Patient #1. Although the death is ruled a suicide, Jack faces opposition from county prosecutor Richard Thompson, and decides to enlist a brash attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, to represent him.

After a morning-drive radio interview, Jack reconciles with Good, who suggests he stop pushing for organ donations as part of his program. Later, in a Bald Mountain Recreation Area cabin, Jack assists in the double suicides of Marjorie Wantz and Sherry Miller. As authorities arrive, Fieger challenges Thompson to “bring it on” in court. “Get ready to become the most famous doctor in the country,” he tells Jack. Hardly intimidated, Thompson has Jack arrested after the pathologist declares the deaths homicides. Though Jack wants to stage a hunger strike in his cell, Fieger pays the bond and Jack is set free. Undeterred when his medical license is revoked (he still has access to Neal’s supplies), Jack agrees to do a TV interview with Barbara Walters. In the meantime, Lessenberry writes a story about Thompson, infuriating Fieger.

 Berated by Jack when her daughter pays for supplies with a check (he uses cash to prevent a paper trail), Margo walks out; later, she and Jack make up and she returns to the team, which has turned down several suicide requests by non-terminal patients, including an injured skier who tried to die by lighting himself on fire. Warned that a ban on assisted suicides from Gov. Engler is imminent, Jack steps up his pace. He and Neal use a gas-mask tent to assist in the suicide of Hugh Gale, who initially balks (the heat is overbearing) but eventually succumbs by his own hand. Writing up a summary, Jack whites out a typo on how Gale asked for the tent to be taken off twice; Thompson, who has uncovered the document, uses it to accuse them of a cover-up, but Gale’s wife corroborates Jack’s story and the complaint is dropped. 

Basking in celebrity after a Time cover story, Jack hosts an exhibition of his original (and macabre) paintings; asked about prices, Jack says, “Whatever you think is fair.” Later, Jack learns that Margo has died of a heart attack; he visits the morgue but is unwilling to view her body. A sympathetic Fieger moves his famous client to a lakeside house, but Jack isn’t ready to retire. Instead, he tests Engler’s 15-month ban by helping a man with Lou Gehrig’s disease die. This time, when put in jail,

Jack tells Fieger not to bail him out, and he starts a 19-day hunger strike that ends when bail is set at $100. Jack wins again in court, but doesn’t see it as a victory, “just common sense.” He’s also irked that there is no constitutional right to commit suicide, and that aiding in suicide is considered murder. At a 1996 trial in which he arrives dressed as a pilloried colonial, Jack walks off the stand after berating Thompson, who loses reelection soon after. Fieger, almost as big a celebrity as Jack, announces he’s running for governor, and irks his client by saying he won’t support doctor-assisted suicide. (He loses.) Meanwhile, Janet stuns Jack with news that she has pancreatic cancer. Before becoming Patient #82, she tells him she’s afraid – not of dying, but of what is to become of Jack.

 After Janet’s death, Jack travels to NYC for a 75th Time Magazine Anniversary gala, but leaves after being questioned why he’s there. Back home, he tells Fieger he wants to take his case to the Supreme Court, and will initiate the death sequence to do so. “If you pull the plug on someone yourself, you’ll be flying solo,” says Neal. After the death of Patient #130, Thomas Youk, Jack gives a videotape to Lessenberry, then arranges a 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace in which Jack admits to administering the fatal drug to his patient. “It’s like watching a man hang himself,” notes Fieger as Jack defends himself in the 1999 trial. Refusing to take the stand in his defense, Jack is found guilty of 2nd Degree Murder and Delivery of a Controlled Substance. “You had the audacity to go on national television, show the world what you did, and dare the legal system to stop you,” lectures the judge, imposing the maximum sentence of 10 to 25 years. “You may now, sir, consider yourself stopped."

We learn that Jack Kevorkian spent just over 8 years in prison, and was released in 2007 at the age of 79. The Supreme Court refused to hear his case.