Family of Kevorkian patient accepts former doctor's award

The family of a man whose assisted suicide led to Jack Kevorkian's prison sentence has accepted an $100,000 award on Kevorkian's behalf.

"He risked his personal freedom," said Melody Youk, who traveled from her home in Waterford, Mich. for the ceremony. "Today he is in a very small cell, alone but not forgotten."

Melody and Terrence Youk accepted the Gleitsman Foundation's Citizen Activist Award for Humanitarianism on Kevorkian's behalf Monday at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge.

In 1998, the retired pathologist helped Melody Youk's 53-year-old husband, Thomas, take his own life by lethal injection. He was suffering from the progressive and fatal disease ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Kevorkian, 71, was convicted of second-degree murder last year and sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison for Youk's death, which was videotaped and aired on CBS' "60 Minutes."

But some criticized the choice of Kevorkian for the award. Nearly 20 demonstrators opposed to assisted suicide some of them with seeing-eye dogs and wheelchairs protested in the hotel's lobby.

Judges on the panel that chose Kevorkian and Stevenson include actor and environmentalist Ted Danson, feminist crusader Gloria Steinem, and a founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Candace Lightner.

"I know of no other humanitarian award that's been awarded to a serial killer like Jack Kevorkian," said Tom Cagle, 48, of Laconia, N.H., before the ceremony began.

Kevorkian will share the $100,000 award with Alabama lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who was recognized for his career-long fight against the death penalty. Stevenson has been quoted as saying he was unhappy about sharing an award with Kevorkian.

In a letter read at the ceremony by his attorney, Kevorkian expressed gratitude for the award.

"I certainly wish I could be there tonight, but in a real sense, I am," the letter read. "In spirit, I'm joining kindred souls in a ceremony celebrating the defense of a fundamental human liberty."

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