Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spare Me the Details

The Jack Kevorkian movie on HBO has triggered another spate of maudlin first-person stories about loved ones snatched from the jaws of doom who would have been dispatched to the hereafter if they'd fallen into the clutches of a Dr. Death.

Spare me.

I have first-person stories of my own, the sort that impelled me to send a modest contribution to Dr. Kevorkian's defense fund for the trial that put him in prison. I almost wish I hadn't, because rather than hiring a good lawyer he chose to defend himself, with predictable consequences.

I presume the people who are posting their macabre tales on internet sites are the same ones who prodded the political slime into making a public issue of the Schiavo family's very private grief a few years ago. The decision to terminate artificial life support for a loved one is difficult enough without the obscene circus those people created.

Their narratives can't even be left to speak for themselves. They've got to be tarted up with purple. Hence, in one recent post, the representative of The Hemlock Society was "an overweight man in a black suit and a bolo tie." (Boo, hiss.) He didn't speak, he "drawled," droppin' the final "g" of his gerunds, the way , y'know, villains talk. He "pulled out what looked like a dirty white headband" as he prepared to help Momma die.

Spare me.

I haven't seen "You Don't Know Jack," the HBO movie on Kevorkian, but I'm told that it treats him fairly, neither varnishing over his personal flaws nor tarring him as a heinous killer. His facial resemblance to Boris Karloff alone would have made him an easy target for hate.

All I ever knew about Dr. Kevorkian is what I read. Despite the undertones of moral outrage in the media coverage, I concluded that he was doing important work. The suffering of the terminally ill can be unspeakably cruel. Three states have passed more enlightened laws regarding assisted death since Jack came on the scene. That can't be entirely coincidental.

How striking is the difference between how we treat dying pets and dying humans! Our beloved cocker spaniel, Sandy, died with dignity and compassion in the care of a kindly animal doctor. My cancer-ridden mother suffered the torments of hell before she died.

What sort of society permits animals to die with dignity but requires people to endure agony before dying "naturally?"

Surely it is time to recognize that rational human beings have an absolute right to determine for themselves when their quality of life has become so dismal that extraordinary efforts to sustain it should be terminated.

The right, if you will, to be treated like dogs.


  1. The right to be treated like dogs? I take it you mean the right to be killed humanely whenever we're peeing on the rug, aren't as fun as we used to be, have expensive medical conditions or any of the other reasons that are most commonly given for pet owners putting their dogs down?

    For a retired editor - especially from the Free Press - you don't know Jack about Jack. The majority of people making up his body count weren't terminally ill - but mostly women with chronic medical conditions and disabilities. The Free Press series "The Suicide Machine" is still online for documentation on that.

    And as for the "humane" part - before going into assisted suicides, Kevorkian spent the previous 30 years expending his energy and passion toward getting access to death row prisoners - to put them down humanely if they agreed to be subjected to potentially lethal medical experiments. He devoted most of a whole book to the subject.

    If all you know is what you read, maybe you should try reading other things - like the Free Press series "The Suicide Machine" or Kevorkian's book "Prescription Medicide."

  2. Stephen Drake, an activist for "Not Dead Yet," was involved in the outsiders' interference in the Schiavo case.