December 9, 2000
When Dr. Jack Kevorkian comes to mind, several different types of generalizations can be made. You can assume that what he claims is true he can be viewed as a compassionate, retired pathologist who cares about peoples suffering and that he was put on this earth to end that suffering. You can see him as a God who suffers for his people, who, in the end, will be there to help them pass from life to death without a hitch. Mr. Kevorkian may be viewed as a murdering psychopath who enjoys every minute he spends watching people drift slowly into darkness never to wake again. My assumption is that Kevorkian, Dr. Death, or whatever you want to call him is not a savior, not a compassionate doctor or a God, but just a man. A man who is so utterly afraid of dying himself that the only way he can control his own demise is by experiencing the death of others.
In 1958 Kevorkian was a thirty-year-old, second-year resident in the pathology department. During an autopsy training session curiosity took over when questions arose among the residents as well as the instructor as to the origins of autopsies and an ancient art practiced by an ancient civilization of experimenting on human beings, while they were still living. Jack took it upon himself to research the information and became obsessed.
Over two thousand years ago, the kings of Alexandria experimented on damned criminals. Kevorkian imagined that they would have used some sort of anesthesia, maybe even something as simple as a drunken stupor (Kevorkian 35). He believed his questions to be intriguing. What could have ancient civilizations learned from such experimentation, what could we learn? What couldnt we learn if we were allowed to experiment on live brain tissues or live muscle mass? The doctor was on a mission and nothing was going to hinder this challenge. We are here in the 20th century and still way behind in these types of practices. He did not think that he was going to begin a crusade he believed that he was just going to continue where the ancient Alexandrian's left off.
I assumed that Mr. Kevorkian began his journey into assisted suicides helping people fight death, but he did not. In his book, Prescription Medicide he said that death is the arch enemy of medicine and that we should resist it incessantly with all the weapons we have (Kevorkian 185)." However, he was never a clinical doctor so how was he going to fight this enemy of medicine? His statement can not be more far from his own truth. If he's here to fight death, why has he assisted so many people to kill themselves? We will get back to that later, for now let us continue discussing the experiments he wanted to conduct on condemned men and women in our prison systems.
During the late 1950s Dr. Kevorkian harassed prison officials for the opportunity to question some of the convicts, on and off of death row. He wrote letters and proposals, and was always turned down. The "systems" responses to his requests were all basically the same. They consisted of poor excuses for their denials to him such as, it was cruel to conduct experiments on these condemned men and women, and therefore it was against the law. Eventually Kevorkian was allowed to interview several inmates and pass out questionnaires. Surprisingly enough Jack received numerous letters from convicts on and off of death row supporting his ideas. Although these men put their wishes down on paper, and contacted many people in powerful roles, Kevorkians ideas were not even considered. In the early 1960's this crusade cost him his resident position at the University of Michigan Medical Center, when after continuing his efforts concerning the condemned convicts, he was asked to leave (Kevorkian 40).
As a practicing pathologist Kevorkian photographed his patients eyes during their deaths (Betzold, 2). He even experimented with blood transfusion from a newly dead corpse to living individuals. No documented proof of how these individuals faired after their encounters with Dr. Death can be found. I only hope that his "Vampiric" actions brought on good results. Vampire Lestat, from Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire did not fair well during an ordeal similar to this. Lestat was given a corpse he assumed was just killed and drank from it. For an individual who is pretty much immortal he did not do well from this transfusion. Let us just say that he nearly died from drinking the blood from a dead person. How would a mortal respond to this type of situation. During the time of these experiments, he earned his "nick name" Dr. Death.
During the late 1960s Kevorkian took himself down a new road, the road of art. He enrolled himself in an oil painting course (Frontline). His artwork can be described as "frightening, demented or hilarious, depending on ones point of view." (Betzold) One painting in particular stands out as the most gruesome, The Gourmet (War). This painting depicts a soldier holding the hand of a decapitated man. The hand has a sword in it and the other hand of the dead man has a fork in it. The decapitated mans head is sitting in front of his body on a table. Kevorkians own description of this painting says:
"What is war? Is it a soldier dying, or guns, or bombs, or crosses, or weeping mothers, or sport, or patriotism, or valor, or high paying jobs? What is war? Not hell. For that is merely evil. War is worse than evil. It is mind-boggling suicide mass suicidewith humankind devouring or trying to devour itself. In vain attempts to assuage some sort of weird, innate (and apparently insatiable) appetite nurtured by our true and beloved God, Mars, We will not settle for less than the "flower of evolution" as the main course, embellished by bountiful side dishes and fanciful shakers filled with the "fruits" of our marvelous hands and big starving brains. How long will we persist in this lethal nonsense? How long before we really believe that salvation lies not in an insane paradox fostered by brute and selfish gluttony, but in the far more "nutritious: and healthful viand in the sadly neglected garden of human compassion and understanding? Considering the status of brotherhood today, possibly too long."
Kevorkians painting was shocking to me. He seems to be a timid individual when you see him on television defending himself during a murder trial. Then you see these images of horror. Most of his other paintings are similar to this one, but not as gruesome. He has painted images of people trying to hold onto life, fighting death till the last second. These paintings show a side of Kevorkian that no one really sees in the open world of media.
His struggle for human experimentation and the harvesting of organs from condemned people continued for years before finally in the late 1980s he took a different direction. It appeared to him that the rode of live human experimentation would lead nowhere. No one thought of all the innocent people dying everyday no one cared. He was positive that he could find another way of helping people. Kevorkian seemed to drop out of the spotlight for some time. Why was he in the spotlight to begin with? There are other doctors who chose to assist their ailing patients in death, quietly. Why has Kevorkian assisted in making it known that he has assisted over a hundred people to die?
In 1990, Pennsylvania legalized lethal injections as an alternative to electrocution deaths for convicts on death row. At more or less the same time, the State's Supreme Court was considering a serious challenge to the death penalty (Kevorkian 96). Basically, he went two steps forward and five steps back. Here he was 32 years later, a victor and loser in the same breath. He was giving up on that issue and wanted to start something new. Jack Kevorkian advertised for individuals who were interested in physician-assisted suicide. Later that year, he assisted a woman in her own death and was stripped of his medical licenses in two states, Michigan and California.
Janet Adkins a 54 year old part-time English teacher died in June 1990. Mrs. Adkins was in better health that Kevorkian is today. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, but was not terminally ill at the time of her death. He died in the back of a 1968 Volkswagen camper van (Kfiles). One of the keys to Kevorkian's Pro Physician Assisted Suicides is that people die with dignity. Is there dignity in dying in the back of a van? Kevorkian was not convicted. The charges were dismissed because Michigan did not have laws prohibiting assisted suicide.
During the early 1990s Kevorkian assisted over 130 people in their suicidesnever being convicted. He would run from motel to motel and have assistants bring dead bodies to the hospitals with no explanation as to where the deaths occurred or how. He watches these people die. Why? Why doesnt he just loan them the equipment that is necessary to do the job and leave them with their families? Its not as if he charges for services rendered, or even supplies. Jack believes that when hes there, in a $25-a-night motel room (McKee 4) with a "patient" and the Suicide Machine, that he is there doing a good thing. Maybe he is, maybe he isnt.
In a 1996 conference at the National Press Club Ballroom, Kevorkian and his attorney appeared to support their actions. He appeared early in 1996 during one of his court room battles, he appeared dressed as Thomas Jefferson, "presenting a visual declaration of the tradition of individual rights." (Hillgren). During his speech Mr. Fieger says that their battle is not one for the right to commit suicide or the right to physician assisted suicide but it is a fight not to suffer. Fieger says: "He was really obsessed with death. He really did these morose and weird experiments. And despite this, weve won." (NPC)
Kevorkians excuse in his 1996 NPC speech to his cause was that timing is everything. He used a typewriter as a metaphor, by saying that if he offered someone a typewriter today as a gift, they would not be pleased but if he had given someone a typewriter for Christmas 50 years ago that person would have been pleased. He says that hes following what should have been done years ago; he insists that he is not leading in this crusade, but following.
Kevorkian believes the American Medical Association to be a dishonest organization. He says years ago they found women in medicine and group practices unethical but now theres no problem with it. Kevorkian believe that years from now, the AMA will support doctor-assisted suicides. The question here is if what Kevorkian does is doctor-assisted suicide? Does here care for the people he helps to die? We know that he doesn't charge for his services, so why does he do it?
The Hemlock Society, a right to die organization founded in 1980 does not equate themselves with Dr. Kevorkian. Here they are an organization that supports physician-assisted suicide but not Kevorkian? many individuals think that the two go hand in hand, but they don't. Hemlock supports changing the laws to allow terminally ill patients to hasten their death with the assistance of their doctors. They want to legalize this method of suicide. Not what Kevorkian does. They consider Kevorkian to be an individual who breaks the law, and that only takes their cause down.
Our society today feels that it is compassionate to put our pets to sleep when they are suffering. Why don't we consider the same sort of procedures for our beloved family members? On a personal note, my pet, Brandy, a beloved member of my family for a short eight years was struck by a car on my 20th birthday in 1993. Her spinal cord was completely severed by one of her vertebrae. She was by no means in bad health, but she was completely paralyzed from the "waist" down. We requested the vet to put her to sleep. She sits now on my mantel in a decorative canister. Cremated she will be with me always. Although, I feel guilty about putting her to sleep, I know it was the right thing to do. She did not have the capacity to understand that she would not have been able to run like she used to. I did not have the capacity to care for a paralyzed pet. Was it more a selfish action than a compassionate one?
Kevorkian has lived the life of a serial killer for the past 10 years, and hes only been convicted of one of those deaths. Why? Because for Mr. Tom Youk, Dr. Jack Kevorkian actually administered the lethal injection, then challenged authorities to do something about it, "We need a felony conviction now. Thats the only way were going to get anywhere with this. (Betzold 2)" His murder of Mr. Youk was videotaped and aired on 60 Minutes. Jack is currently in a jail cell, sitting there doing nothing. I can only imagine what is going through his mind. I dont think that he believes hes wrong Mr. Youks death means nothing to him. He thinks that hes done the just thing in killing that man. Thats what he didKill another human being. Hes currently 72 years old and still alive because he chose not to starve himself to death in jail. Jack believes he will be acquitted of Mr. Youks murder and released. He complains that there is no correction fluid allowed in jail. Hes in jail, for murdering a man, and all hes concerned about is that he has no correction fluid to fix his errors. (Rubin)
Kevorkians attorney is appealing his conviction and also trying to have the doctor released during the appeals process. The good doctor insisted that he would try to starve himself "I know they are going to force-feed me, but my captivity is still enslavement, and Im not going to go along with it." (Kevorkian-Saunders) However, it turns out that a new ruling prevented the prison from force-feeding him. Jack Kevorkian decided to live and fight in court for his freedom instead of "dying with dignity."
For more that half of his life hes been advocating some sort of planned death. "I concluded that our death penalty laws can be so worded as to grant condemned criminals a choice between conventional methods of execution and irreversible surgical-depth anesthesia for the purpose of medical experimentation." (Kevorkian) Now that hes never going to see the light of day, never going to get out of jail he decides to fight for his life. That was a choice he never considered giving the people who called him for help. Many of the 130 people he assisted died within 24 hours of meeting him. That doesnt sound like a man that is compassionate in helping people. He would run over as fast as possible before they could change their minds. Even in his early days of advocating live human experimentation he wanted to allow criminals to change their minds although "revocation must be limited, say to within one week." (Kevorkian)
Doctor Deaths own health is currently deteriorating, and yet he will not commit suicide. "How fitting it would be if another would-be death doctor came a-calling. Noting Kevorkians ill-health, a winnable Jack could talk about how undignified it is to be sick in prison." (Saunders 1) He has high blood pressure and according to his attorney looks like a skeleton. His first "patient" was in better health when she died than he is right now, yet he struggles for his life. Hes never fought for life. How odd that hes fighting for his own.
Mr. Wesley Smith, the author of Forced Exit has devoted his life to the other side of Kevorkians issues. Ive seen that in these two contrasting thoughts that Kevorkian has done what he has done for his own benefit. He only wants to experience death without dying himself. He is utterly a coward and can only survive by killing others. He shouldve been sentenced to his own death years ago.
What Kevorkian does is not "caring physician-assisted suicide." He murders people for a living and gets a way with it. He actually doesnt charge for his services. That is why Kevorkian is so "frugal." He actually prides himself in shopping at thrift stores. The famous blue cardigan sweater he wore during one of his trials was purchased for a whopping dollar and some change. What happens if everyone begins to rationalize with him? Advocating suicide for terminally ill patients is just one issue. Our society can eventually take suicide so lightly that anyone who is just not happy with their way of life can go to a doctor and ask to be put to sleep (Smith 83). We would become a society of people who cant deal with any kind of pain, discomfort or uncertainty.
Kevorkian disgusts Smith. Smith sees that Kevorkian doesnt truly care for these poor people. Although he doesnt say it flat out, Smiths book is laced with the hatred he feels towards people like Kevorkian. He, Smith is definitely a pro-life individual. He believes that people should fight till the very last moments. When GOD decides to take us into his arms.
Mr. Smith's close friend Francis led a full life and although she was diagnosed with cancer, treatable cancer, she would have led an even better life had she continued to live. But the ideas of suicide were always in the back of her mind. She had been planning her own death for years, and had even gone so far as to plan a going away party for herself (Smith XV).
He was horrified to learn that she had committed suicide in a hotel room, by taking a lethal overdose of drugs and placing a plastic bag over her head. How was that a dignified death? How can Kevorkian be blamed for this woman's actions? He cannot. My grandfather recently passed away, and all I can think about is that he died on a machine. His body gave out, and he never even knew he was there. That is the ideal death. Should we assist people to die? Yes, no one should suffer. As Prof. Keefer said one Saturday afternoon this semester, We're more kind to our pets. Our society definitely has to rethink this suicide issue, but Kevorkian should not be part of it. He is just a madman who is going to die in jail for killing so many innocent souls.
Kevorkian, Jack. Prescription: Medicide The Goodness of Planned Death. Prometheus Books, 1991
Smith, Wesley J. Forced Exit: The slippery slope from assisted suicide to Legalized Murder. Times Books, 1997
Brovins, Joan. Dr. Death: Dr. Jack Kevorkians Rx: Death. Lifetime Books, Inc., 2000
Vonnegut, Kurt. God Bless you, Dr. Kevorkian. 1995. Read by Scott Brock. Audiocassette. Books on Tape, Inc.
McKee, Kate. Kevorkians frugality sometimes leads to trouble. March 1997. <www.freep.com/suicide/qfrugal6.htm>
Brown, Judy. The Choice: Seasons of Loss and Renewal after a Fathers Decision to Die. Conari Press. 1995
Rice, Ann. Interview with a Vampire
"AMA Affirms its Opposition to Doctor Assisted Suicide" <http://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/ama1/htm>
"A Summary of Dr. Kevorkians Art Work" Brotherhood September 2000. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kevorkian/aboutk/art/>
"A Summary of Dr. Kevorkians Art Work" Fever. September 2000. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kevorkian/aboutk/art/>
"A Summary of Dr. Kevorkians Art Work" The Gourmet War. September 2000. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kevorkian/aboutk/art/>
"A Summary of Dr. Kevorkians Art Work" Nearer My God to Thee. September 2000. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kevorkian/aboutk/art/>
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Kevorkian, Jack. National Press Club Luncheon. National Press Club Ballroom. 29 Jul. 1996
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Hillgren, Sonja. National Press Club Luncheon. National Press Club Ballroom. 29 Jul. 1996
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Anonymous. "Personal interview with a future Physician from New York City."
I Graduated from the University of Michigans Medical School in 1952. I have been a resident Pathologist for numerous hospitals in Michigan and Los Angeles. Contrary to many beliefs I earned the name "Dr. Death" when I was studying death, and photographing the eyes of dying patients to determine the EXACT time of death, not because I know assist people in their suicide. I am resp9onsible for all of the laws legalizing lethal injection as an alternative death method to dying inmates. It is I who will be there when you die. I will be there to make sure you go quietly, peacefully and willingly.
Everyday I am questioned concerning my Ethics as a doctor. Let me explain something to all of you about ethics. "Ethics is doing and saying whats right at the right time. Thats what people forget. So you have eternal ethics based on some mythology you invent, youre going to have a crises if you think thats eternal, as society changes.": (NPC).
Medical ethics are based on religious ethics. Historically hospitals were built by the church, and priests were often the doctors in any given community. That however should not be the case. I am not against religion Im just against the tie it has to medicine. Should we have priests telling architects how to build their buildings and bridges? No. This should be the same with the medical field.
We are biological beings. Our bodies are not sacred Machines that work properly when all the organs are healthy and happy. Why continue to live if youre not a "well oiled machine?" should be two separate things. The human body is not sacred, and if we need to kill ourselves because we chose not to suffer then so be it. Did any of you know that the American Medical Association refused to allow women to be in the medical field because if was unethical? The AMAs history of opposing issues such as Medicare, Blue Cross and group practices is proof that they are morally corrupt themselves. All of these issues they opposed are ethical in the AMAs eyes now. Assisted Suicides and Live human experimentation are soon to follow. I will make sure of that.
"Ethics is doing and saying whats right at the time. (Kevorkian)" Even Jefferson said it when I red these words. Things change and weve got to be prepared to change the constitution and amend it. "We have eternal Ethics, and thats the problem" Dressed as Thomas Jefferson earlier in :Many people do not understand my plight; they believe that Im an evildoer. A devil incarnate if you will, however, just as many people believe in my struggle and support me. In todays society you would think that people would be more open minded but theyre not, why is that? I ask myself that question every day. Firstly, let me begin by telling you a little about myself, a background that no one seems to remember any longer. I barely remember it myself.
As a young adult, I attended medical school because I wanted to help people. I wanted to soothe someones pain, cure their ailments make them live longer happier, fuller lives. As a thirty year old, second year resident of the pathology department, curiosity took me over when I was attending an autopsy training session. Questions arose among the residents as well at the instructor as to the origination of autopsiesor something along those lines. An ancient art practiced by an ancient civilization of experimenting on human beings.
Over two thousand years ago, the kings of Alexandria experimented on damned criminals. I could only imagine that they would use some sort of anesthesia, maybe even something as simple as a drunken stupor. What could have ancient civilizations learned from such experimentation, what could we learn? With todays technologies, what couldnt we learn if we were allowed to experiment on live brain tissues or live muscle mass? I felt a surge of excitement in side of me, which I could no sooner ignore than a gun in between my eyes.
Why cant we; in the year 1958 do the same as primordial civilizations? A condemned man is going to die anyway, why cant we get his approval to do some good right before he dies? We would certainly be able to conduct the experiments right there in the prison. Needless to say, I did not realize the can of worms I would be opening. In my inexperienced mind, I was going to be a brilliant person, saving the lives of millions. HA! Easier said than done.
It appeared that letting a prisoner on death row, chose how he will die was unthinkable let alone a ridiculous idea. No one cared if a condemned criminal wanted to do something good in his last minutes of life. Not one person cared for all of the innocent people that were destined with this prisoner because he was not able to decide to donate his body to science, in turn saving his soul. I had to do something about this; I couldnt sit idly by and allow innocent people to perish for no good reason. But hat could I do? I was about to find that out.