Dr. “Jack,” Kevorkian passed away on 6/3/11. Last Friday, to be exact

He has been hailed as a champion by the right to die movement and vilified as a ghoulish serial killer by his detractors.

Dr. Kevorkian was born to Armenian immigrant parents in Pontiac Michigan, in 1928. He was an American pathologist, painter, composer and musician, as well as an activist for assisted suicide. For the right to die, with dignity and to avoid intense prolonged pain and the possible humiliation of dementia and loss of control of bodily functions. He was a genuine modern day Renaissance man. A brave and compassionate man.

In the 1980s, Dr. Kevorkian wrote a series of articles for the German journal Medicine and Law, laying out his thoughts on euthanasia. His belief in euthanasia was not based based on race, gender, political persuasion or any factor other than the relief of suffering and  an unwavering belief in the right of  a person to chose his/her own death. An individual choice,  as opposed to the government forcing one to suffer needlessly.

Dr. “Jack,” put his activism in practice with the assisted suicide of Janet Adkins, a 54 year old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He could not find a home or building in which to do this, so he did it  in the back of his Volkswagen bus, in a peaceful, sylvan setting.

Although Janet Adkins had given her signed permission, and wish to die in this way, Dr. Kevorkian was charged with murder. The charges didn’t stick, because at that time, there was no law in Michigan against assisted suicide. The patient being assisted had to initiate the euthanasia process themselves, as proof that they were the ones making the final choice.

Dr. Kevorkian was tried in Michigan courts four times. The first three times, he was aquitted and the fourth time the trial resulted in a hung jury. Dr. “Jack,” went on to assist over 130 people, who suffered from a variety of terminal illnesses, or relentless, unmanageable pain. Everyone of these people wanted to die. Many of them pleading with Dr. Kevorkian to end their suffering.

But Dr. Kevorkian wanted more than just to assist the dying. He was, after all, an activist for assisted suicide and he wanted to make a grand point and hopefully have laws in favor of assisted suicide. To this end, although all the assisted deaths before, were initiated by the patients and not the good doctor, he decided to give a lethal injection to a man dying from ALS, or Lou Gehrig‘s disease. Dr. “Jack,” videotaped this incident, as he had done with many of the others, but this time he called CBS and requested to be on 60 Minutes, and was granted an interview. During this interview, he showed the videotape to a nationwide audience. I offer this episode of 60 Minutes below. I feel I should warn people of the contents of this interview. It may not be an easy thing for some to watch;

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7368313n&tag=mncol;lst;8

This appearance on 60 Minutes prompted another investigation of Dr. Kevorkian. Because he administered the deadly drugs himself, this time. Something he had never done before. He was once again charged with murder, only this time, the odds were not in his favor. This did not bother the doctor one bit. A big part of him actually wanted to be convicted, to help further the cause of assisted suicide. And, when all was said and done, he got his wish. He was convicted of 2nd degree murder and was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison.

It’s difficult to say that he received a fair trial. Much of the evidence Dr. Kevorkian wanted to introduce was disallowed by the judge. But no matter, he was soon hauled off to prison where he did over 8 years of confinement.

As part of his parole agreement, he promised not to assist in any more suicides. He kept his promise.

I am writing this because, even though it seems like old news (and I have left a great deal out) assisted suicide is still illegal in all but two states. Oregon and Washington. Dr. Kevorkian was not happy that only two states had passed laws making assisted suicide legal.

I offer this in hopes of starting a discussion about the right to end one’s own life, by a trained physician, in a setting of comfort and calm and with the blessings of loved ones who cannot stand to see a member of their family suffer needlessly, and when their is no hope for any recovery.

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AdLib
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The HBO bio on him (“You Don’t Know Jack”) presented that his mother’s suffering while terminally ill and his parents escaping the Armenian Holocaust both may have had a strong influence on his views and motivations. He was a zealot which made him both a champion and problem for the promotion of his cause. Not content to have escaped prosecution repeatedly by passively providing euthanasia, his determination to have a court rule for the right to terminating one’s own life led him to that massive miscalculation of actively assisting in the provision of euthanasia and doing so in front of… Read more »

Khirad
Member

There’s even a band named after him. Undoubtedly not most people’s musical persuasion, but ’twas not an idle name. This is chock-full of Kevorkian-related sampling:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g74m0VRuoDk

Chernynkaya
Member

Kilgore, let me echo the others who thank you for this topic. I was especially enlightened by the comments of Sally and Kes who brought up the issues of hospice and a living will. They are both likely outcomes of the work of Dr. Kervorkian, and for that alone, he made a huge and positive difference. All I can say about this is that I hope I have the courage if and when the time comes. I support the right to end our lives if we want. ChoiceLady brought up the idea of suffering as a religious virtue and I… Read more »

kesmarn
Admin

KT, thanks for raising a delicate, but important, issue. Like choicelady, I didn’t particularly admire Jack Kavorkian’s personality. He was such a publicity hound (and I do realize that he felt he needed all that publicity to make his point) that he produced a sort of carnival atmosphere in situations where reverence might have been more appropriate. But at the same time, I’m grateful to him for his contributions. Which, oddly, are not in the area of legalizing assisted suicide, but rather in the realm of improving pain management and in making hospice care more available, acceptable and affordable. As… Read more »

jkkFL
Guest

KT, Thank you for a gentle, understanding post on a caring man.
I am all about Quality of life.
There is no comfort in having to deprive your Beloved Mother of fluids so she could die- because she wanted to- at 86.
She was in pain, and she was tired.. but nobody could Do anything.
I plan to plan ahead for My Time…

SallyT
Member

Killgore, thank you for this article. I find it somewhat irronic that we can have a “do not resuscitate document”, often called a “living will” and it is a binding legal document that states resuscitation should not be attempted if a person suffers cardiac or respiratory arrest. This right is granted us or someone we leave in charge to make the decision on our behalf. The doctor can not be brought up on charges for not keeping you alive. Why can’t we have the same rights over our bodies when suffering intense prolonged pain and the possible humiliation of dementia… Read more »

Khirad
Member

Indeed, and I regret on having moved before I could vote on the Washington law.

Maybe Pepe could clear that up on its status in Montana, as it was a court decision.

Still kinda funny to me that California has the reputation as the most liberal state in the West. 😛

choicelady
Member

So much of what underpins opposition to death with dignity legislation is the belief that suffering is the “godly” way to live. Until I see a signed letter from God, I will refuse to believe that. The Oregon and Washington laws are very careful. The large faith organization for which I work has a principle affirming the right to die. I am concerned, as anyone might be, that people can and will be pressed to “remove” themselves for the benefit of others who are pressuring them, but the laws are very clear on the protections about that. I can see… Read more »

texliberal
Guest
texliberal

Spot on choice. Recently visited my 99 year old mother-in-law in a Southeastern Missouri nursing home. She was a devout and I MEAN DEVOUT Catholic all of her life. Her body is fairly sound for 99 but her mind has long since gone. If that is some God’s reward for a long life of piety I want no part of it.

KQµårk 死神
Member

Great post KT. I am 100% for death with dignity. Having a chronic illness myself you realize that quality of life is not only important but a basic human right. There is nothing worse than living as a ghost in a shell when your body can literally do nothing and you are in constant discomfort. Some people don’t realize that sometimes it’s not a definable pain that makes you miserable because if your organs are shutting down the discomfort can be as unbearable as as any pain.

funksands
Member

Great post KT. There is so little that we are in control of in our life, the least being how we came into it. Being able to leave it in a manner of our choosing and with what dignity we can manage doesn’t seem too much to ask.

ADONAI
Member

Damn KT, I wish you would write more posts. You pick some pretty interesting topics. I’ve always liked “Dr. Jack”. I think he did a good, decent thing for a great many people. But I’ve always had a strange outlook on life. I love life, living it, and experiencing it, but I’ve never held it as something sacred. The ravages of disease and old age kinda put a damper on the whole “life is sacred” thing. What is right and just about telling someone they can’t chose where, when, and how they die? What is just about forcing someone to… Read more »