Originally published on 5/7/11
Lately I’ve been fascinated with Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the infamous pathologist who helped over 130 terminally ill patients die between 1990 and 1998. When I listen to him speak, I generally agree with what he has to say. Sometimes, however, he says and does things that make me roll my eyes. For example, at a lecture he gave at a university a few years ago, he showed a picture of an American flag with a swastika on it. I thought that was a very simplistic way of defining the problems America has. Considering that his parents narrowly escaped the Armenian genocide, you’d think his perspective would be better than that.
He also often says something else that I thought was very simplistic and that I initially took with a grain of salt: Doctors are cowards and the medical profession is corrupt. They watch terminally ill patients suffer and beg to be put out of their misery. However, they turn their backs because they know that if they help these suffering patients die then they will be thrown in jail for murder. I thought to myself, “Well, yeah, they have to look out for themselves. Nobody wants to go to jail.”
However, after reading Kevorkian’s biography and a book that he wrote called *Prescription Medicide*, I began to wonder if what he was saying was valid and not just the rantings of an old hippie. I then read a book by Carol Loving called *My Son, My Sorrow.* Loving describes how her son, Nick, in his 20s, was at the mercy of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Eventually he was almost entirely paralyzed and was in constant pain. He could barely swallow. He begged his mother to help him end his life, even shouting in desperation, “Kill me! Kill me!” At one point, he was in a hospice for a few days (at his request) just for a change of scenery. There, the doctors were negligent, cold, and even forgot to “turn” him in bed. At that point his mother requested the increase of his medication to alleviate pain, not to help him die. However, the doctors refused because they were afraid that he would die. She shouted, “God forbid you should give him the only thing he wants.” The doctors also saw that Nick was depressed and doped him up on Prozac, as if his depression were all in his head and not because of something external. They also wanted to put him in a mental hospital.
Finally, Nick’s mother contacted Dr. Kevorkian who agreed to help Nick die. Mother and son flew to Michigan where Nick took his life by inhaling carbon monoxide. He died quietly and peacefully because there happened to be one doctor who was brave enough to do what was right.
Again, I thought to myself, “Well, we can’t expect most doctors to have that kind of nerve.” But then I thought, “Well, why not actually?” After all, doctors have a lot of power. They have the power to increase the human lifespan like never before, and with that kind of power comes great responsibility. This includes knowing when to say, “Enough is enough!” Apparently, many doctors in America help suffering patients die all the time. It’s kept quiet, however, in a “don’t ask don’t tell” kind of way. How do they expect the laws to change if they keep quiet about it? They need to take the responsibility that comes with their profession and do what Kevorkian did and be open about it. No, not in terms of some of the publicity stunts he pulled, but just being open about his intentions in general. I also read that many doctors confided in Kevorkian that they supported what he did but did not say it publicly because they were afraid that it would hurt their reputations. It’s amazing that only ONE doctor out of the thousands in America had the nerve to stand up and openly do what he did.
Don’t get me wrong– there are many great doctors out there. But between what I’ve read and, in retrospect from my own experiences with some doctors and experiences some of my family has had, I think there is a lot of truth to what Kevorkian says. Many of these doctors are merely gifted and intelligent people who just see their profession as a way to make money. Keeping a terminally ill patient alive not only helps their reputation but also ensures they will make more money. The same thing goes with unnecessary surgery and shoving unnecessary medication down people’s throats.