Friday, February 6, 2009

Dr. Death - Hero or Villain?

The Miami Herald reports on Jack Kevorkian, who spoke in Davie about a movement that is gaining momentum nationally.
"You have every right in the world to have assisted suicide," he told an audience of 2,600 Thursday night at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.

"I can only get people to think," said Kevorkian, 80, paroled in June 2007 on the condition that he not assist in any more deaths. "That's all I've done."

"I've never considered myself a criminal," said Kevorkian, who was sent to jail in 1999 after lethally injecting a man who had Lou Gehrig's disease and showing the video on the television program 60 Minutes. He had taken part in up to 130 suicides and, in his interview Thursday, said he would have "done it the same way" if he had to do it over again.

Although public opinion is gradually moving towards acceptance, according to the article in the Miami Herald, there continues to be criticism of Kevorkian's methods even among proponents of doctor-assisted suicide. He was personally present at each of the 130 assisted suicides he conducted, administering the medications himself. States where it has been implemented do not allow this.
"He was killing people," said Peg Sandeen, director of Death With Dignity, which advocates nationally for assisted-suicide legalization. "He illustrated some of the significant problems that can happen when this is not regulated."

What's your opinion? Is assisted suicide of terminally ill patients contrary to the mission of a medical practitioner? Does prohibiting people from doing this violate their rights?

Please tell us your opinion.


  1. Hero, of course.

    Think of all of the gruesome ways that people have committed suicide in the past; all of the blood and fragments of skull and tissue clinging to the walls after some guy blows his brains out.

    Dr. Kevorkian would have been able to help the man to a peaceful end to his death not only for himself but for those who needed to clean up the mess after.

  2. Dr. Kevorkian should not have been persecuted for helping people who wanted to die. If the government has a problem with assisted suicides, than governments should not have medical doctors involved in capital punishment.

  3. Kevorkian's cause is a good one, and we're better off for his having pushed it with the courage he's displayed. he's advanced the debate and made people think, in ways that will benefit society in the long run. i'm a bit conflicted, though, because Kevorkian himself is --- from every credible report i've seen --- a profoundly disturbing and creepy sort of person to have as a champion.

    oh well, nobody's perfect. better Kevorkian than nobody at all.

  4. Norman:

    A lot of the most vocal supporters of a lot of causes are quite odd. Gun owners have the camo and black helicopters crowd and the 3%ers--Extreme, but useful even if I don't fully support their views.

    I think Kevorkian's cause was just--There are circumstances when suicide is appropriate, and there should be legal ways of doing it as painlessly and effectively as possible.

  5. Though Kervorkian presented a pretty bizarre view of assisted suicide, he helped change the view of society...
    Now because of him, it is accepted in a few countries such as Switzerland.
    I have had friends who have commited suicide for the very reasons that Kervorkian championed it and I consider them brave and noble to have taken control of their own destiny, rather than leave it in the hands of the legally driven medical industry that would try to soak every penny of insurance money to keep them in a half life and vegetative state.
    Think of Tolstoy, who knowing he was dying, just walked into the wilderness, rather than face a life of sycophantic admirers desparately keeping him a suffering invalid to try to garner his gratitude.

    I value my life and I strive to live it as vitally as I can, but I know I will die and I would rather die nobly rather than in the hands of a money sucking machine.

  6. Not all those on the side of life are part of a money-sucking machine, Microdot.

    The sad thing about assisted suicide, is that people are often depressed who do it, afraid to be a burden, and too often made to FEEL like a burden by the insensitive selfish offspring they've spawned --or spouses they had the misfortune to marry.

    I was so impressed with a woman on Oprah the other day who lost her arms and legs, colon, gall bladder, and female organs --after a C-section when she got a flesh-eating bacteria. She was radiant in her happiness to be alive and to care for her daughter --joyous about the kindness of people to her --and a husband who stood by her through this ordeal instead of suggesting she'd be better off dead than to have such abbreviated limbs--so she wouldn't be a burden to him. She could've felt that way about herself, and she could have had family and friends who agreed --and Dr. K, money-sucker himself, would oblige her.

    Better for us that we have humane ways of caring for the profoundly ill, pained, and disabled. We think their quality of life is poor, so we think they'd rather be dead --but in fact, we see many of the disabled return to USA from war --who are STILL glad to be alive --in part sustained by the love and help of others --on whom they are dependent.

    I marvel at the workers at our local Sunshine Children's Home who care for profoundly disabled people --they love their helping roles. They find meaning in relief of depression and suffering through help--not through assisting suicide.

  7. I think Barb has a good point there, which I've mentioned myself about suicide in general. Often people who claim to want suicide may be suffering from some temporary condition of depression or self-pity, which can be treated for what it is. Relatives and loved ones have a grave responsibility to sort this out without violating the person's individual rights.

  8. People change over time and while a mentally healthy person today is legal to own a gun, in the future that person's mental health may change but still have the gun allowing them commit a murder or kill themselves.
    Seems the pro gun users that support gun ownership but are against doctor assisted suicide are in a conundrum.

  9. Well of course people fall victim to depression and want to die. Yes, many suicides can be avoided and people can live productive lives with diabilities.
    I won't say more about myyself, but I was personally involved working with the Sunshine Childrens Home in Toledo in the early 1970's.
    That is not the issue here.
    I saids that Dr. Kervorkian's actions were bizarre. I do not consider him heroic, but he did open up the debate and the ability of society to deal with these issues.
    This has nothing to do with euthanasia or disposing of unwanted children with mental handicaps. That is truly diverting the discussion with a cheap appeal to the emotions.
    This again, is about the legal ability of a person who is facing death to die with out the intervention of a business driven medical system afraid of the legal consequences of letting the person make the decision.

    In New Orleans, after Katrina, in a hospital without power, abandoned in effect, medical personell, committed to the well being of the patients entrusted to them, were forced to take matters into their own hands because they knew help was not coming and they had patients on failed life support systems who were dying agonizing deaths in spite of their heroic efforts to keep them alive.

    They made the decision to help some of them who were in the most dire circumstances to die.
    Now, they are facing charges brought on by an emotionally driven debate, focusing not on the circumstances or the reality, but religious and insurance money driven legal arguments which use the theater of cheap emotion to play out their case.

  10. I think I totally agree with Sevesteen, Dr. Kevorkian is bringing up some VERY good points in Medicine (also note that lethally dosing terminally ill patients in extreme pain with Morphine is and has been very common in hospitals for generations)

    Still he is far from the best spokesperson for the issue, also there have been several publicized ethics violations, as well as the very unprofessional manor of his procedures (home made machines, and patient transport in a rusty VW Bus).

    Mike has a great line that "suicide is a pertinent solution to a temporary problem." but in the case of painful terminal illness death is a permanent solution to an unpleasant and permanent problem.

  11. What difference is there in who is the advocate for assisted-suicide? One cannot castigate the concept because the advocate is 'creepy.' Abe Lincoln was 'creepy' too.

  12. The same reason why Joe the Plumber is Hypocrite for being a tax cheat, but it's totally cool for Tim Geithner to run some fibs.

    Public opinion rarely makes much sense if you discount the spokesman.

  13. Micro

    but religious and insurance money driven legal arguments which use the theater of cheap emotion to play out their case.

    Your appeal to a "noble" death was an appeal to emotions.


    in the case of painful terminal illness death is a permanent solution to an unpleasant and permanent problem.

    death is a cure to just about every problem there is permenant and otherwise from J-walking to hunger. If we'd go ahead with a nuclear holocaust, we'd solve every human problem there is!

  14. Is it impossible to help all terminally ill people be comfortable to the end --without resorting to euthanasia (different from assisted suicide, I know, but related issue.) I suspect that the last days of Hospice interventionin in our country are days of euthanasia --by morphine increases --such that a person dies out of his head, muttering nonsense and having crazy, even scarey hallucinations --rather than dying naturally, able to communicate last good-byes to one's family. My father slipped away peacefully --as did my grandfather. I hope I do, as I do not suffer well.

    I have seen a case where I wondered if euthanasia wouldn't be a mercy --a girl with a brain tumor that had left her no functions but to blink her eyes and shed tears. She couldn't even swallow without choking. If one could keep her comfortable, that would be my preference rather than to make the decision to end her life before God took her. But she was such a prisoner in her body, wasting away.

    I do think it is wrong to pull plugs on people who show happiness when they see others (Terri Shiavo (?) --who seem to enjoy life despite its "quality." I think of a friend's little boy who is so profoundly disabled including blindness --in a wheelchair --profoundly retarded --can't speak but for a few intelligible noises. But he loves to hear music; his mother and grandmother adore him and willingly do everything for him; Habitat built them a wheelchair accessible home --and last I saw him, I would call him happiness personified.

    These people may do something good for us --for a humane society --for the caregivers who never give in to weariness to the point of wishing their loved one dead.

  15. there are times when we euthanize dogs, arguing that it's the more humane thing to do, because leaving them to suffer would be too cruel to contemplate.

    yet we routinely force humans to endure just such suffering and worse, arguing that it would be too cruel to end it, even if those humans (unlike dogs!) might ask or beg us to do just that.

    yet on the third hand, it is commonly said that to treat humans "like dogs" is an evil, cruel thing to do.

    this does not make sense.

  16. I think there may be cases where easing one along could be merciful--when a patient is in unrelieved agony that is obvious and can't be fixed.

    But the potential for abuse is huge--and the potential for money and greed and even lack of compassion or temporary depression to be factors in ending someone's life --for their inheritance, for the selfishness of family, for a wrongful judgment on "quality of life" and for our premature sympathy for someone who says he wants to die --who might get over this desire later.

    Joni E. Tada was profoundly depressed when she first became quadraplagic and contemplated suicide, but has lived a life of beauty instead through her faith in Christ.

  17. this does not make sense.

    cause dogs are people too?

  18. happiness is a good thing to have, for those of us who ever achieve it. but self-ownership is a far more important thing, is arguably sometimes a prerequisite for happiness, and makes a much more compelling argument.

    happiness could be achieved, in most people, with a slow steady heroin drip. i'd rather be free, though.

    if i am free, to the point i wish to be, then i clearly have the right to decide when my life is to end. i clearly also have the right to request help and assistance in ending it; i only need to be able to speak (or type) to do that. whether i have the right to expect any response to such a request, i'm not yet sure myself. probably not, though compassion should impel one to give a response to such requests.

    (i don't see myself dying of disease or frailty, no. comes to that point, i hope to have the sense to make my own exit while i still need noone else's help with it. being permanently crippled by accident or illness before i can settle my own score is one of my greatest fears. to have my death made a thing not within my own control would be far too much like having my whole life stolen from me; distasteful, ugly, wrong.)

  19. humans are "people" to a far greater degree than dogs are, because our ability to clearly communicate abstract concepts lets us make our wishes known much more clearly than a dog can.

    Kevorkian heard such wishes, and responded to them. for this he was jailed. what he actually did is treat people like people, by taking their stated wishes at face value and trusting them to know their own good.

    dictating another's life and death for them whether they approve or not... is in fact something we do to dogs.

  20. Principe, Thanks for pointing out that contradiction: a pro-gun guy opposing doctor-assisted suicide.

    Micro, Thanks for that Katrina anecdote. I need to read more about that awful story.

  21. The Katrina anecdote: what if caretakers were wrong and help WAS on the way? what if someone decides my life in hospital or nursing home is miserable and helps me out with a pillow over my head? If it were legal, he could use that as an excuse.

    We need to be very fearful and reluctant to ease someone else's suffering by killing them --even if they request it. Because their suffering just may be temporary.

    We DO give drugs to take people out of their misery --which are not supposed to end their lives --but may, in fact, shorten them.

    We all believe in relieving suffering most any way we can --but death? We do well to fear playing God in this way --whether we are asked or not.