By Dave Andrusko
In a curious way, it came as a shock to me that a man who wore his moniker “Dr. Death” with pride should have died this morning at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. Jack Kevorkian was 83.
Hospitalized with kidney and heart problems, evidently Kevorkian suffered a pulmonary thrombosis, according to his friend and attorney Mayer Morganroth, “when a blood clot from his leg broke free and lodged in his heart.” Morganroth told reporters, “It was peaceful, he didn’t feel a thing.”
I don’t imagine Morganroth has the faintest notion how much truth he told in that statement.
We’re running four entries today on Kevorkian, who was convicted in 1999 of second-degree murder and served eight years. In addition to my remarks here and a piece I wrote almost exactly one year ago, I’ve attached NRLC’s statement and a commentary by bioethicist Wesley Smith, who closely—and brilliantly–followed Kevorkian’s career.
Over the last 21 years I’ve read hundreds of articles and two books about Kevorkian, whose passion was death—including an almost metaphysical quest to locate the exact moment of death. I could almost write a book myself, but it’s late Friday afternoon and I need to write two other stories. Three points.
First, Kevorkian “assisted” the suicides of at least 130 people. From a legal perspective, he was literally untouchable until his overweening ego got the better of him. Kevorkian actually videotaped himself administering a lethal injection to a man with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and then went on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to taunt the legal establishment by showing the video to millions. That cost him over eight years of his life in jail.
Second, Kevorkian became a media celebrity long before HBO recruited Al Pacino to play the title role in ‘You Don’t Know Jack,” the film that earned Pacino an Emmy and Golden Globe.
“Kevorkian cut a vivid image at premieres and awards, sometimes wearing his iconic blue thrift-store sweater with a tuxedo,” wrote Joe Swickard of the Detroit Free Press today. “He almost glowed at receptions as women circled him and powerful men elbowed their way through the adoring crush to shake his hand.”
Perfectly intelligent people could—and did—say the most awful, jaw-dropping things. “He was part of the Civil Rights movement — although he did it in his own way,” said Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard professor and lawyer who advised Kevorkian during his legal battles.
“Part of the Civil Rights Movement.” Martin Luther King, Jr. must be turning over in his grave.
Third, the myths surrounding Kevorkian are impenetrable. According to the Washington Post, “Those he aided had terminal conditions such as multiple sclerosis, ALS and malignant brain tumors.”
In his commentary, reprinted today, Wesley offers the truth.”Thus, while the media continually described him as the ‘retired’ doctor who helped ‘the terminally ill’ to commit suicide, at least 70 percent of his assisted suicides were not dying, and five weren’t ill at all according to their autopsies.”
To that, as he did to other examples where the media turned a blind eye, Wesley affixes an incredible insight: “It. Didn’t. Matter.”
No, it DIDN’T.
There were no lengths to which Kevorkian could go that would force his admirers—especially those in the media– to jump ship. The exact opposite seemed to happen. The more maniacal (a term used endearingly by his defenders) he acted, the more they heaped praise on him.
Reading the stories today, Kevorkian was hailed as a “straight-talking doctor,” a man to whom material things meant nothing, a man so devoted to his “cause” that “he never married and had no children, and the people most closely associated with him were his attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who represented him without fee, and one of his faithful, longtime assistants, Janet Good.”
Indeed, in most of the obituaries I read the only question was whether this ascetic sought a kind of martyrdom or had it inflicted on him by an uptight and uncaring world. In a real sense, to these admiring journalists and bioethicists Kevorkian was too good for this world.
The Associated Press has a chronology that you can read at www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Timeline-of-key-Jack-Kevorkian-events-1408152.php.
If you have an hour, the best long-form journalism piece that I ever read was Ron Rosenbaum’s “Angel of Death: The Trial of the Suicide Doctor” (www.vanityfair.com/magazine/archive/1991/05/jack-kevorkian199105).
I remember reading the opening quote from Kevorkian like it was yesterday.
Referring to Janet Adkins, his first “patient,” he said, “Her eyelids flickered a little and she looked like she was rising up to almost kiss me. I leaned over and the first thing that came to my mind is to say, Have a nice trip. That’s all. Have a nice trip. Those were the last words said.”
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