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Kevorkian: ‘Doctor of Death’ or Humanitarian?
by David Farside
Jun 07, 2011 | 754 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week, Dr. Jack Kevorkian died at the age of 83. He claimed to have illegally assisted 130 terminally ill patients commit suicide. The majority of his patients were suffering from cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, paralysis of some sort, Lou Gehrig’s disease or other terminal conditions. Claiming “somebody has to do something for suffering humanity,” he served eight years in prison for his defiance of the law.

Kevorkian was a humanitarian and a political activist. To draw attention to the need for physician-assisted suicide, he publicly assisted the suicide of Janet Adkins, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, in 1990. He was arrested and later released because there were no laws preventing physician-assisted suicide. The state of Michigan suspended his license and passed state laws that prohibited the medical practice.

He bypassed the law and continued to help suffering people who wanted to end their own lives. He injected the needle in their arm so they could turn on his euthanasia machine and take their own lives anytime they chose.

His personal tenacity and political commitment resulted in the passage of the “death with dignity” bill in Oregon in 1994. The law allowed physician-assisted suicide for patients diagnosed with six months or fewer to live. Although it didn’t address the needs of all patients with incurable long-term diseases, it was at least a compromise. The states of Washington and Montana passed similar legislation. Hopefully the other 47 states will do the same.

Not everyone believed Kevorkian limited himself to helping terminally ill patients. The Detroit Free Press reported that 60 percent of Kevorkian’s assisted suicide patients were not terminally ill. The paper claimed that patients with chronic pain were not referred to pain specialists. Autopsies showed that at least three patients had no signs of any disease at all and Kevorkian did not obtain a complete medical record or history of his patients. His response was: “What difference does it make if someone is terminal? We are all terminal.”

Kevorkian was a pathologist. His other interest included music and art. As an accomplished musician he composed and recorded his original jazz scores and received favorable reviews.

However, as an artist his work reflected his inner-self. Besides oil, he sometimes used his own blood as a medium to express his fascination in the macabre. One painting, “Of a child eating flesh of a decomposing corpse,” convinced some psychologists and forensic pathologists to believe Kevorkian was a serial killer rather than a doctor of mercy.

According to Kevorkian, his goal was to end all human suffering humanely. He believed that “dying is not a crime.” He was right. If someone is bound and determined to end his or her own life, there should be a legal, safe and humane way to do it.

In 2001, 30,622  people took their own lives in the United States, but not all attempted suicides are successful. In 2002, 132,353 individuals were hospitalized following botched suicide attempts, creating even more human suffering and a need for physician-assisted suicide.

Nevada has the highest rate of suicide among the elderly. Unfortunately, taking one’s own life is not exclusive to senior citizens.

A 2002 study by the CDC shows an alarming increase in suicide among  our young people. Suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Of the 3,971 suicides reported in that age group, young people took their own lives with guns most often, followed by suffocation and poisoning. The saddest and most alarming statistic on suicide shows that children between the ages 10 and 14 have a suicide rate of 1.3 per 100,000.

It seems animals have more humane rights than humans when it applies to  euthanasia. We can end their pain, anxiety and life with one injection. Humans have to genuflect before the tabernacles of God’s messengers and end their life according to inscriptions of holy dogma, instead of a prescription from a family physician.

If religious zealots are correct and man is of his own volition, we should be responsible and accountable for our own decisions concerning life and death. So, why are they opposed to physician-assisted suicide to end human suffering? They embrace the death of a man on the cross who committed suicide for their collective suffering and salvation, yet they’re opposed to anyone else taking their life to relieve their own suffering in pursuit of individual salvation.

As our family members get older, the chances of being diagnosed with a terminal illness increases. So maybe it’s time to take a realistic approach to assisted suicide and legalize it. But since the mother church of martyrdom and religious bastions of self-righteousness will always oppose it, the only option available is to move the terminally ill to Oregon, Washington or Montana.

I don’t know about employing the services of a doctor of death when I’m 100 years old, but I think I’ll settle for a bottle of Jack Daniels, a six-pack and ...

David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at His website is
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