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Kevorkian Is No Humanitarian

By DEBORAH KENDRICK · June 25th, 2007 · In My View
Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet, a Chicago-based disability rights organization, wonders aloud if the media is suffering some collective amnesia or, worse, a dismissal of standards with regard to handling news of Jack "Dr. Death" Kevorkian.

I'd frame it another way. I'd say some among us just aren't seeing too clearly.

Let's review. Kevorkian is that guy in Michigan responsible for 130 deaths from 1990 to 1998. He called it "assisted suicide," but the courts finally called it something else. When he sent CBS a videotape of himself administering the injections that led to the death of Thomas Youk -- a tape that subsequently aired on 60 Minutes -- the Oakland County, Mich., prosecutor could no longer ignore him.

Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder. His 10-25 year sentence was cut to just over eight for good behavior, and he was released last week.

Never mind what I think about Mike Wallace's interviewing him again for the June 3 episode of 60 Minutes, except to say that all of us, including me, are giving this guy exactly what he wants most: center stage attention. What troubles Stephen Drake -- and me -- is the inaccuracy repeated so frequently regarding those 130 deaths.

The majority of those people who died at the hands of Jack Kevorkian were not terminally ill.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported in 2004 that fewer than 30 percent of Kevorkian cases it analyzed were actually suffering terminal illnesses.

I think of the rest of them as people who didn't know their options.

You don't die of depression. Back injury is not a death sentence. People with multiple sclerosis can live for decades after diagnosis. Of course, a cynic could argue that depression can ultimately lead to suicide, back injury to an overdose on pain meds and multiple sclerosis to a number of debilitating conditions. But each of these is treatable.

Sure, each one of these conditions and dozens more can feel like a death sentence when it first arrives in your personal biological inbox. Each of them can certainly incite a fair amount of anguish. But those who learn about options and adaptive techniques and coping mechanisms along with that initial diagnosis can and do live long, productive and happy lives.

Anyone who has experienced a serious injury or disease knows the initial shock and grieving that come with the territory. Ask anyone who has suddenly lost sight or hearing, become paraplegic in a car crash or been diagnosed with lupus or some other terrible disorder. Even Superman (actor Christopher Reeve) admitted to first contemplating suicide after his accident; then he figured out that he was still the same person -- the same person with some significant changes and a life to live.

In other words, when disease or disability strikes, there's grief. Then there's moving on. Kevorkian exploited that grief for his own agenda rather than connecting patients with those who could guide them through moving past tragedy and on with life.

If we're going to waste paper and airtime on this guy, let's at least get the facts straight: Most of those who died at his hands were not terminally ill, and Kevorkian is not terminal himself. He has high blood pressure and hepatitis, both of which seem to be under control.

At a press conference June 1, the day of his release from prison, a small group of protesters from Not Dead Yet were outside.

"Let the crippled people demonstrate," was Kevorkian's disrespectful comment.

In my view, the source of the disparaging comment doesn't really carry much sting. Consider his overall credibility. At that same press conference -- after stating that he will be conducting no more assisted suicides, as he'd go right back to prison if he did -- Kevorkian told reporters that he was the reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson.

I'm thinking that his 1990s rampage was maybe never so much about 130 people not wanting to live as it was about one man craving the spotlight. Reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson? And we pay any attention to this guy? Why? I guess that since playing God didn't work out, he's trying on a new role.

I don't think we should bother talking about him any more.

contact Deborah Kendrick: letters(at)citybeat.com


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