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Flashback Dr. Death

May 6, 2010

Back in the early '90s the Jack Kevorkian story commanded headlines. He was helping desperate people -- 27 in all -- to end their lives. He even devised a machine to assist them, called The Thanatron.

HBO's Al Pacino film on Kevorkian a few weeks ago jogged our memories about those years. Some saw Kevorkian's 27 cases as an indictment of our medical system: where were the doctors? Was suicide the only answer for these patients?

So here's a clip from our 1994 report, The Kevorkian File, which suggests some of the public drama and ferocious legal battle that went on for years over Dr. Kevorkian's right to assist in suicides.

20 Comments

COMMENTS

This man has never been given the credit he is due. He is the only one brave enough to face the issue of death in a kind and compassionate way and people don't see that. People who aren't suffering think they can make decisions for people who are. We all need to tend our own gardens. He is way ahead of his time.

audrey / May 7, 2010 9:17 PM

I agree with you Audrey. This man is a true hero!

Rob / May 8, 2010 1:56 PM

This is the crowning example in recent American history where the law failed. It's an embarrassing episode in this country's history. Kevorkian is absolutely a hero for confronting the irrational political and religious whims that never take into account personal tragedy and pain. A little time since we threw him in prison has revealed that fact, as now Americans have to fly to Switzerland to die with dignity. Although he probably should have been a little more socially sensitive in home videos, his uncompromising view on organ donation and the right to die with dignity is absolutely spot on.

Jon / May 8, 2010 4:26 PM

Dr. Kevorkian is hero in my book too. For those of you who have watched a love one suffer from the effects of cancer or some other horrible terminal disease, you can probably identify with wanting to put them out of their misery. I've had the unfortunate experience of watching my grandfather go from a strong 190 lb. man filled with life into a withering 70 somethin lb. shell of a man who looked like someone who just came out of a concentration camp. He suffered a lot, as did my family members as we struggled to make him comfortable during the end of his life. Life is cruel sometimes, and death is not as it is portrayed in movies and television. Meaning, the picture of family members gathered around our loved one as he or she gracefully passes on is often not a reality. Hours before my grandfather's death at home (he had hospice care and a nurse was also present at his death), his lungs filled with fluid as we watched him struggle for his last gasps of air. It was a horrendous sight for anybody to endure. We were all relieved when he finally passed on. This is why I can identify with what Dr. Kevorkian did, and commend him on how he took a stand for what he believed in even though he was breaking the law. He brought to attention the need to re-examine our flawed beliefs in death and dying. Nobody should be able to impose their beliefs on anybody else. Life is precious, but when you are terminal and suffering from a great deal of pain and discomfort, there is no quality in life.

Al / May 9, 2010 12:37 PM

Dr. Kevorkian chose to face patient's suffering and death. delve deeply, utilize his extensive medical and research capabilities
and offer humane alternatives for those who wished them.
We the public had nothing at all to fear from him; on the contrary his great courage and compassion will eventually win out. I challenge all of you to spend three days and three nights by the bedside of the dying at your local terminal cancer ward, a nursing home with terminal patients as well as in your local hospice. After being fully present to the patients then form an opinion about Dr. Kevorkian from you gut and your heart and your mind.

Michele Marie / May 9, 2010 4:47 PM

Amen to both the above opinions. I would go farther. Suicide should be the right not only of the terminally ill but of ANYONE who consciously makes that decision.

I don't suppose many know that suicide is something like the 2nd biggest cause of non-natural death there is - ahead of murders etc. (although I would appreciate soeone giving me exact statistics here). So, suicides will hapen inevitably. Why not allow those who make that decision a humane way to do it? Or do you prefer to have the police repeatedly see blown-out brains, mangled corpese, etc.?

Let's abandon medieval, pseudo-religious belief once and for all and allow rational decision-making free rein.

Anonymous / May 9, 2010 5:14 PM

I totally agree with the comments on this page Dr Kevorkian was just doing his job to relieve the suffering for which his profession should be doing too bad the religious right and churches have such a grip on this country

liz / May 9, 2010 6:01 PM

I agree with Audrey, true hero, and I think the movie with Al Pacino was outstanding as a documentary and in making an opinion subtle.

Ivan Castillo / May 9, 2010 9:43 PM

I was wondering earlier if Dr K was still serving a sentence...Oops..
he was released in 2007 and served EIGHT years. How cruel and what a waste of this physician's courage and compassion!

claire / May 10, 2010 2:07 AM

I totally agree with "anonymous" re applying respect for the right of ANY ADULT to make their own decision as to when they want to end their lives. I want to encourage everyone to consider that psychological or emotional pain and suffering and loneliness may well reach an intolerable level in many people. Even years of dedicated psychotherapy may not reach the desired aim for all.
Such people should be respected and supported when choosing to make their 'final exit'.

anonymous 2 / May 10, 2010 8:59 AM

Shame on the government for putting him in jail for eight years. 27 days would have sufficed. The same law is still on the books. I want to make my own decision when to be at peace, not the government. Why does the government have the right to make people endure such horrible pain for such a long time? What is wrong with us allowing such laws to exist? No one wants to end their horrible pain with a bullet or jumping off a building. We should have a "pill" that once diagnosed with a terminal decease, is given to the adult patient to use whenever he/she wants to. Who wants to drain our loved ones finances and put them through the horror of helplessly watching us struggle to stay alive when all we want to do is stop the pain. Start planning and saving the pills you will need if the diagnosis is yours.

Pat Holden / May 10, 2010 10:54 AM

Hero to some, a monster to others, far from me to stand in judgement of Dr. Kevorkian. However, the issue and all the noise it made opened my eyes. I had breast cancer surgery in 1992, and was diagnosed with metastasis to bones and lungs in 2008. Still early days, but what next? Suicide, assisted or otherwise, is NOT the way I'd choose to go. Regardless! My personal beliefs make that unacceptable in the most profound way.

So, while setting my own affairs in order, I did some research, discussed the matter with doctors, nurses and lawyers and visited a number of hospices and convalescent homes. I was shocked to discover that modern pharmacology and medical terminology have made it possible to circumvent both the legal issue and the public's ire provoked by Dr. K's practices. Indeed, the issue of assisted suicide is no longer a valid issue. Not in big cities; not the way it was. Rather, having one's wishes honored for dying an 'unassisted' natural death has now acquired a new and greater uncertainty. Here's what I mean.

Background: the following terms are currently in common use in medical practice : 'Palliative Sedation' and 'Terminal Sedation.'--bearing in mind that all sedation alters our state of consciousness to some degree or other. Palliative sedation refers to sedation used to lessen pain, stress, anxiety while inducing various states of light unconsciousness of variable duration--depending on dosage, frequency and mode of administration, and drug used. The latter term sedates a patient by inducing a terminal state of unconsciousness, either gradually or in a shorter time. The drug of preference in cases of extreme pain and/or anxiety is one of the morphines. Depending on frequency and/or mode of administration, on dosage and type of drug used, sedation can be made palliative or terminal.

More and more, Dr. Kavorkian's intent and practice is by way of becoming standard procedure at hospitals, convalescent homes and hospices with neither a bang nor a whimper from the law or the public.

In my case, one physician advised me to write an Advanced Directive with my wishes clearly stated, my signature witnessed and copies given to all concerned parties, doctors, hospitals, lawyers, the refrigerator door--to ensure my wishes be known and honored. So I have.

The director of a local hospice, however, warned me that at her hospice all AD's are honored and strictly adhered to by her nurses when on duty, but she had no control over nurses from other hospices who came on night or weekend duty. 'But have pity on us,' she added, 'it is often unbearable to witness the suffering of patients in great pain day in and day out!'

Yet another physician advised me to rely on 'Higher Powers' to be certain my wishes were kept. This was said while pointing directly upwards!

Who then has the last word on one's own death?

Moral of the story: Assisted suicide, under whatever new appellative, is neither News nor an issue! And dying one's own unassisted death is no longer as certain as it once was. Perhaps no longer the rule!

The realization came as a shock but it shouldn't have. In the 21st Century, with the planet heating up and drying, ecosystems collapsing, and population climbing by 200,000 humans per day, Soylent Green (Charlton Heston, US 1973) is no longer as much a fiction film as it was said to be when first released! Soylent Green is people-- how did the people die? And..., where are WE headed, if not in 10, then in 20 or 30?

AC / May 10, 2010 11:40 PM

we need to take a long look at this I think that Dr K. is a true man befor his time and I feel that he is a good man I am just not able to see us letting some one play God.
I hate the fact that the people must suffer the pain that thay do and no I do not know what thay must be going threw it must be one hell of a struggle But does anyone have the right to play God? I just do not know.
Hugh Collins

Hugh Collins / May 11, 2010 12:01 AM

I only wish that I had known of Dr. Kavorkain when my best friend and my mentor (my father) suffered with ALS for five years and eventually died. It was heartbreaking to see him suffer as he did. Dr. Kavorkain did not deserve to be incarcerated. He definitley is a great and courageous human being in my eyes. He truly emphasized with people that were suffering. For those of you that do not know this, he was a very good artist, his black and white pen sketches depict the compassion and understanding that he has of patients in severe pain and agony. Thank you Dr.Kavorkain for being you. I am proud to know of you.

Nina / May 11, 2010 3:39 PM

Today is the first annual Good Death Day to honor Nicholas Loving, number 23, on Dr. Kevorkian's list of people to receive a Good Death. Nick was dying of Lou Gehrig's deadly disease & Dr. Kevorkian was the only physician to extend any compassion. The good doctor kept me from assisting my son myself. Thank God for Dr. Kevorkian.

Please, contact you political leaders and tell them you want the government out of your death bed. Good Death for all!

Carol Loving, author
My Son, My Sorrow: The Tragic Tale of Dr. Kevorkian's Youngest Patient

Carol Loving / May 12, 2010 5:58 PM

I shall never undersyand why some people want to deny the right to die a good death to anyone else. what business is it of theirs. i had a sign made up for GOOD DEATH DAY and the man who was going to make it said, "i'm not in favor of euthanasia, i don't think we ought to go around killing sick people." i said that no one wants to do that, that all we want is the right to determine our own destiny, do not deny me the right for assisted suicide. he said "well everyone thinks you want to kill off all the old and sick people, they think that's what that word means." i asked him if when he thought of the words"mentall ill" he thought of someone running around slobbering with their tongue hanging out of their mouth and clucking like a chicken?' IGNORANCE IS OUR BIGGEST THREAT! i told him if he wanted to suffer for 20 damn years that was his business and i didn't care, but as for me, i chose not to die like that and i would prefer specialized help rather than suicide which i might blunder. GOD BLESS CAROL LOVING AND GOD BLESS DR. JACK KEVORKIAN!

george wimmer / May 12, 2010 6:24 PM

A true pioneer with a mission specifically done with the utmost compassion. Unfortunately, as with all great pioneers and humans ahead of their time, he was and is misunderstood and persecuted.

When its my turn to exit, I pray that there is another Jack Kevorkian to gently ease me out of this life.

Sanger / May 14, 2010 7:58 AM

I too have seen many of my family suffer from cancer etc It is not a sight I want to remember but it has been etched in my mind forever. Vetennarians put our loving pets to sleep in a humane way...why can us the human population decide for ourselves how we choose to die?? I think the DRS want to keep us going for monetary reasons...GREED..Just greed.. I would thin that while we are still in our right minds we should be able to decide how we pass.Painful and suffering terribly or have a choice to be put as rest humnanly..I also pray that when my time comes..that I have a Jack Kevorkian to help me pass painlessly to the other side.

Terri R / May 17, 2010 8:38 PM

I admit I had some prejudice against Dr. Kevorkian before I saw this movie. It opened my eyes and made me realize, if I'm terminally ill, I'd like to go out on my own terms. More than that I gained a huge respect for this man. Wether you believe in his methods or not, he believed in his cause. You have a new fan Mr. Kevorkian

Alfred Hernandez / May 17, 2010 11:23 PM

I can't believe that people demonize this man. He is doing a good thing. I have suffered with extreme depression and anxiety for many, many years. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I just wish someone would help me end my pain.

Chris / November 10, 2010 7:36 PM
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