Dr. Death, Free at Last!

Assisted-suicide superstar Jack Kevorkian is getting sprung from the Michigan pokey after a decade. Kevorkian was found guility of second-degree murder in a 1998 death and has claimed to have assisted in around 130 suicides over the years.

Whatever your position on assisted suicide is, I suspect we can all agree: Kevorkian was creepy with a capital K.

And, as I argued in a 1999 Suck piece as his trial was unfolding, he was an absolute idiot to act as his own lawyer (thereby joining the ranks of Charles Manson, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Colin Ferguson).

Reason Contributing Editor Thomas Szasz puts the pillow over Kevorkian's medicalization of suicide here.

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  • ||

    Thomas Szasz? Wow, there's somebody that's totally not as creepy and stupid as Kevorkian. Totally.

  • ||

    Okay, Kevorkian is a loony weirdo, sure. But I'm utterly unable to make head or tail of Szasz's piece -- his argument, if coherent at all, is utterly mendacious.

    Consider this sentence: "Either the state controls the means for suicide and thus deprives persons of a fundamental right to self determination, or we control it and assume responsibility for the manner of our own death."

    It assumes that there is but a single "means of suicide," that this means is susceptible to control, and that the State is omnipotent in this regard. Not even in Nuremberg does State control liberate us from moral responsibility. Moreover, note the comically vague "we" -- is that individual responsibility (in which case -- why this essay? Surely what one has responsibility for, one can responsibly contract out...) or is it collective responsibility (in which case -- why this essay? If you're responsible for your neighbor's suicide, it's hard to see what room there is for a debate) or is it governmental responsibility (in which case -- there's no dichotomy at all).

    That "we" (plural) assume responsibility for our (plural) own death (singular) is a tip-off to the truly mammoth bait-and-switch Szasz is pulling here. He wants to turn Kevorkian into a tool of the Therapeutic State, "medicalizing" suicide. But at the same time, he wants the existence of the Therapeutic State to serve as a moral excuse for the prosecution of suicide-assistors (because, see, they're really collaborators...). What people are supposed to do until he's succeeded in his epic quest to liberate us from that State remains deliberately unclear.

    Creepy and morally vague: Kevorkian. Creepier and morally even vaguer: Szasz.

  • ||

    I've always been proud that they took a while to find a Michigan jury who'd convict him. Michigan- We aren't so bad.

  • ||

    "Michigan - We aren't so bad."

    Now THAT is a bumper sticker slogan I can get into.

    CB

  • ||

    I remember seeing Jack Kevorkian speak at the National Press Club early on when he was getting attention. I was thoroughly impressed. I remember thinking "He really knows his stuff, he makes an excellent advocate for his cause."

    A few years later he was back a the National Press Club. By that time he'd been through a few trials and done a little time. I remember thinking "He has lost it. The death with dignity movement needs to distance itself from this lunatic." He had that combination of megalomania and paranoia (except you're not paranoid if they really are out to get you) that says 'crazy'.

  • ||

    I thought the Michigan slogan was, "Michigan: It's not all Detroit".

  • ||

    I have to agree with Jim Bob - having Szasz comment on Dr. Death is like having Ramsey Clark comment on the US Attorney scandal. Can't we just bury that guy out in the desert and forget about him?

  • ||

    ... and has claimed to has (sic) assisted in around 130 suicides over the years.

    Uh, Mr. Editor? Do you ever bother to proofread your own copy? ;-)

  • ||

    Oh, but you're quick, Nick! ;-)

  • VM||

    Can't we just bury that guy out in the desert and forget about him?

    TK: actually, he was let out to see if he could bolster the Yankees' bullpen...

  • ||

    Reasons's assertion that Szasz is anything but a quack and a ideologue is hilarious.

  • ||

    *Reason's

  • ||

    Jim Bob,
    I can agree that, Szasz is a quack and ideologue. However, to state that he is nothing more, is to dismiss his critique of the establishment. That is a mistake. Whatever Szasz's shortcomings, the psychological profession has a good deal of it's own. Szasz's attacks have been quite devastating.

  • rhywun||

    A friend of mine owns Kevorkian's flute (?) album. [update: It's called "Very Still Life". *shiver*] The creepy grin on the album cover still gives me nightmares.

  • ||

    Grant, well said.

    I think the real tipping point in this country comes about 2025 when the heart of the baby boom is hitting their average life expectancy. MEGADEATH Battle IV - the plaintive wails of the medical hangers-on versus the indignant shrieks of the over-taxed who say screw you old farts and your Medicare.

    I personally don't get the utility of a couple more months of crappy existence. Or the inate fear even if they are relatively good ones. But I've been a hemlock kind of guy even back to college. As long as I retain the choice (or delegate it through medical power of attorney) why does anybody else give a crap?

  • ||

    I thought the Michigan slogan was, "Michigan: It's not all Detroit".

    Yep. Some of it's Flint.

  • ||

    Thomas Pynchon couldn't have thought up a more suggestive name for a suicide doctor. "Kevorkian" has a blunt, martial ring to it.

  • ||

    Warren,

    Fair enough.

  • ||

    Let's not forget Dr. Jack has a killer CD...

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000006MI5/reasonmagazineA/

  • ||

    Jack Kevorkian gets out of the jail on the same day that the Yankees start a three game series on Fenway.

    How perfect.

  • ||

    And, as I argued in a 1999 Suck piece as his trial was unfolding, he was an absolute idiot to act as his own lawyer

    Having a lawyer could have helped him a lot if he fould one that also has a medical degree and is willing to defend a doctor who broke the law to kill people. I think when you combine the rarity of his expertise and the rarity of his moral perspective, there aren't that many people who could and would help to defend him.

  • ||

    To paraphrase a quote from the underrated Sci-Fi movie Demolition Man:

    Kevorkian reminds me of an evil Mr. Rogers.

  • ||

    You people are simple minded Neanderthals. Kevorkian is the rarest of persons: and American hero. The fact that he has received so much criticism is a indication of how truly brainwashed and simple minded the American public is. One comment above criticised Kevorkian for representing himself in court. I would point out that in doing so he joined the ranks of Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau. An activist who retains a lawyer is a coward, pure and simple. To attack the system and then use its duplicitous tools to defend yourself when it strikes back, smacks of hypocracy. A person who critcises men like Kevorkian, men who have the rare courage to fight for our rights, is an SOB.

  • M (with an assist from Mike Go||

    As long as I retain the choice (or delegate it through medical power of attorney) why does anybody else give a crap?

    An argument against legalizing assisted suicide is the fact that many physicians do not have any expertise in the many advances in pain relief. And many doctors are unable to diagnose clinical depression, which can be treated if you know how.

    But assisted suicide is especially seductive when, in this time of HMOs and other managed care, the pressure is mounting to not waste time, bed space, and money on patients who would be "better off dead."

    Yet, in our present "death culture"-to use a phrase of Wesley Smith, who writes with great authority and clarity on that culture-there is also a growing support for active euthanasia. That is, why not permit the doctor to not only give the death pills to a patient but also to actually be present and inject the patient directly with death?

    Professor Singer sees no ethical difference between assisted suicide and having the doctor do the killing. Singer makes the point that "active euthanasia"-performed by a physician-should "be accepted as humane and proper under certain circumstances."

    But that person must want to be euthanatized. Unless, Singer says, the patient-like a newborn-lacks "the capacity to undertand the choice between continued existence or nonexistence."

    If, for instance, you fall into what doctors call a "persistent vegetative state." The presumption is that you then do not know if you're alive or dead. You do not know anything. At that point, according to Singer, it is appropriate to kill you. Unlike an animal, you are not self-aware.

    However, over the years I have interviewed doctors who, in their own experience, have known patients to have recovered from misdiagnosed "persistent vegetative states." In his book, Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope From Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder (Times Books), Wesley Smith writes about Dr. Vincent Fortanasce, a board-certified neurologist and psychiatrist. Fortanasce tells of a 60-year-old man who "collapsed and was diagnosed as P.V.S. by his internist, who strongly urged the family to discontinue all life support, including nutrition."

    Fortanasce applied the required tests and found that the patient was not P.V.S. He'd experienced a severe brain seizure, and after appropriate treatment, "a week later, the patient walked out of the hospital in full possession of his faculties."

    Three of Peter Singer's grandparents died in Nazi concentration camps. Last October, he said, in a debate at Princeton: "I do not think it is always wrong to kill an innocent human being."

    On October 17, 1933, The New York Times reported from Berlin that the German Ministry of Justice intended to authorize physicians "to end the suffering of incurable patients, upon request, in the interests of true humanity."

    This was a prelude to the Nazi concentration camps.


    http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0008,hentoff,12702,6.html

    More hier.

  • ||

    An argument against legalizing assisted suicide is the fact that many physicians do not have any expertise in the many advances in pain relief. And many doctors are unable to diagnose clinical depression, which can be treated if you know how.

    I would have to disagree with, if not the former, at least the latter. Depression is such a common condition that a major (probably 20% or so) portion of primary care is devoted to dealing with it.

    There are two camps of people who attempt suicide - young people in stressful emotional situations, and older people who are isolated and have chronic, debilitating illness. Psychiatric care may be effective in reaching the first group, but not so much the latter. I have to admit that it seems completely rational to me to want to kill yourself when your wife is dead, you have no children, and you have incurable throat cancer.

  • scandalrag||

    Way to lump Kevorkian in with Ghandi and Thoreau, Ethan. Of course, they represented themselves because they both had trained as lawyers. Kevorkian represented himself because even a publicity hound like Geoffrey Fieger wouldn't represent him anymore.

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