Friday, June 3, 2011

Died Today:

Dr. Jack Kevorkian 
Pathologist/Assisted Suicide Advocate
May 26, 1928-June 3, 2011
(Age 83)

Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
Imagine, this is the last face that at least 130 people saw. 

Jack "Dr. Death" Kevorkian, met his maker today or quite possibly the other guy considering his claim to fame.  Dr. Kevorkian was a pathologist, which means he never really had the zeal to heal.  Death was his vocation and his main interest.  (I'm not saying that as a critique, obviously.)

This subject of assisted suicide was always a back burner issue.  I would suppose that before Jack Kevorkian brought it to the mainstream there were a lot of doctors and nurses that would perform the same task with just a little too much morphine as a final relief to a patient in agony.  Dr. Kevorkian shoved the whole business out into the open with his suicide machine that would allow the patient himself to release the deadly drug combos that would thereby end their existences.   Complete with video.  What kicked it up a notch with the Death Doc is that instead of assisting people who were in great agony with imminent terminal conditions, Dr. Kevorkian would minister to patients who were not necessarily near death but had severely compromised quality of life ailments such as Multiple Sclerosis or ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease).  Michigan tried Dr. Kevorkian for murder three times but could never make it stick until 60 Minutes aired a video of Dr. Jack snuffing out the life of 52 year old ALS patient, Thomas Youk.  In this particular death Kevorkian crossed the Rubicon and actually pushed the plunger.  This proved his undoing and he was sentenced to a 10 to 25 year stretch in the state pen for 2nd degree murder.  Swearing off his grim work was a provision for his parole after 8 years.

Proponents of physician assisted suicide considered Dr. Jack Kevorkian's advocacy a double edged sword.  On the one hand, he raised public awareness of the issue immensely.  On the other, with his cadaverous face, ghoulish approach and barely disguised glee with his work, he gave a lot of otherwise sympathetic people a bad case of the squeamies.  He made no secret that he liked to gaze into the eyes of his "patients" as they were dying, and in addition had some unconventional ideas regarding organ removal.  He was also a musician (weird, free floaty jazz) and a painter (death scenes, no surprise).  Love him or hate him he truly defined the word fanatic.  Someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.

A sample of Dr. K's artwork. 
Uplifting images were not his style. 

My opinion?  I deal with the aftermath of death everyday.  I also believe that God gave us life and it is His to take in His own time.  I'd also like to believe that my death will be a peaceful one at home surrounded by my loving family.  But what if that's not the case?   How I would feel if I were faced with the agonizing pain of bone cancer or the terror of choking on my own saliva like an ALS sufferer?  Every day I talk to people who've gone through this kind of stress with their loved ones.  It makes you loathe to judge other people and their end of life choices.  I can understand the slippery slope concerns of people who are against the legalization of physician assisted suicide.  (Only Oregon, Washington and Montana allow it.)   It may become all too easy to talk to Grandpa about his suffering when other issues (we want your money) may be driving the discussion.  But you have to weigh that against having the person you love most in this world begging you to let them die in peace with some dignity intact.  Thorny issue?  You bet.  At least the saga of Dr. Jack Kevorkian got us talking about a previously taboo subject.

Dr. Kevorkian's passing was caused by complications of liver cancer and a pulmonary embolism.   All natural and unassisted.

If you are vexed for a weekend movie you could do a lot worse than You Don't Know Jack, starring Al Pacino.  An interesting and entertaining biopic of the infamous doctor.

Also, Wikipedia has a pretty good overview of Kevorkian's life and career.

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