Old Well: UNC Chapel Hill Campus

Wednesday, June 8, 2011



Dr. Jack Kervorkian, dubbed “Dr. Death” by his detractors, died last week.  While many, particularly the religious, denounced him in his euthanasia advocacy, I happen to admire him as a hero, or as a man ahead of his time, for I find repugnant the notion of the nobility of suffering, and I believe in the individual’s right to dignity and compassion.  Yes, he assisted more than 100 terminally ill in taking their lives, but only because society at large refused to grant them that dignity and resolution of enduring pain.  Ironically, we show greater compassion towards animals.  Unfortunately, religion proffers morality, or rules, rather than ethics, which argue for compassion. The one often leads to intolerance and violence; the other, to empathy and benevolence.

I don’t know where it comes from, but all my life I’ve been for euthanasia as a sovereign right.  I remember a few years ago that even passive euthanasia, say the taking of an individual off life support, was considered murder and, hence, outlawed.  Again, largely out of religious mores.  Today, we recognize it as our right to allow our loved ones and physicians “to pull the plug” when there’s no hope of recovery.

Kevorkian was a man of conviction.  He paid for it with 8 years in prison for second-degree murder in 1999, having assisted a patient dying from that horrendous disease popularly called “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”

I don’t know anything about his personal life, but in his final hospital moments his lawyer, Mayer Morganroth, was at his side.  Morganroth related the kindness of the doctors and nurses, who played Bach over the intercom, Kevorkian’s favorite composer.  He passed at 2:30 a.m., June 3.

His lawyer in some of the earlier assisted suicide cases, Geoffrey Fieger, rightly called Kevorkian a “historic man.”  “He simply felt that it was the duty of every physician to alleviate suffering, and when the circumstance was such that there was no alternative, to help that patient to end their own suffering.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, on hearing the news, said, “I felt an involuntary gasp of air in my throat when I learned of his passing.”  Gupta was the last individual to interview Kervorkian.  In that TV interview, Kervorkian expressed his own fear of death.  He also wanted to live longer.  “He said he needed to warn the world about the perils of an overabundant society, change their views on euthanasia, and help re-establish the glory of the 9th amendment. As often happens in death, Dr. Kevorkian may now be even more likely to achieve those goals. I told Jack I hoped to see him again one day. And, I meant it.  RIP.”

Today, three states have now passed laws allowing for physician assisted intervention in cases of terminal illness:  Oregon, Washington, and Montana.  I liked the comment of one Oregonian, Doug, who gets it right:

“Here in Oregon we have legal assisted suicide.  I am so grateful to know that my end of life experience is one that I can control with dignity and [be] pain free. This is one’s own choice.  If you read stories of people here who have used this, you would be amazed. It actually gives one the last chance to say good bye and you won’t have to watch me suffer, and 3 to 5 hours later I am gone. This is how it should be for anyone who is terminal and wants dignity.”

Thank you Dr. Kervorkian!  There are millions of us who have loved you!