'Dr. Death' Takes Us Down the Slippery Slope

January 01, 1996  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Euthanasia

Dr. Jack Kevorkian

He’s the sickest American cult figure since Charles Manson, with two major differences. First, he’s killed almost eight times as many people. Second, he’s still walking around, free to kill again. And kill he will. Some call him an Angel of Mercy, but he’s better known as Dr. Death.

As I write this, Dr. Jack Kevorkian has put down/put to sleep/euthanized persons 35, 36, 37, and 38, though lately he’s been killing faster than I can type. None of the people appear to have been imminently close to death. One had Lou Gehrig’s disease, the same illness that Dr. Steven Hawkings had for decades when he penned a best-selling book and became world famous. Two had multiple sclerosis, the disease Annette Funicello had (and has) when she starred in her film autobiography.

The fourth, 42-year-old Judith Curren, was a nurse and a mother of two young children. She was overweight and depressed and believed she suffered from a vague (though sometimes real) malady called chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). None of these are terminal, and the woman’s belief she had CFS may well have been a manifestation of depression.

Further, severe depression is often accompanied by a desire to commit suicide. But this is a highly treatable condition, and in any case a severely depressed person no more has the capacity to "elect" to die than a five-year-old girl can "elect" to engage in sex.

But no matter, for Dr. Death continues to be treated like some gallant crusader. "Dr. Jack Kevorkian stepped up his campaign for doctor-assisted suicide," began a recent Associated Press article.

Wrong. Kevorkian no more kills in the name of any higher cause, including doctor-assisted suicide, than a lion rips out an antelope’s throat in the name of balancing the eco-system. The lion is driven by instinct; Kevorkian by something we used to call evil.

The man is a ghoul. Some of us like to watch female volleyball; Kevorkian likes to watch people die. A much-ignored 1993 Newsweek article documented that in the 1950s, while studying to be a pathologist, Kevorkian made regular visits to terminally ill patients and peered deeply into their eyes. He wanted to watch the sparkle of life disappear. "There was no practical application," he admitted later. "I was curious, that’s all."

Later he advocated surgical experimentation on the bodies — particularly the brains — of live death row prisoners. Later still he expanded his idea to encompass other persons, including "comatose, mentally incompetent or otherwise completely uncommunicative individuals . . . "

Earlier this year, thinking he was making some salient point, Kevorkian invoked Christ’s death, saying "Do you think it’s dignified to hang from wood with nails through your hands and feet?" He said, "Had Christ died in my van . . . it would have been far more dignified."

Look Jack, it’s not just that a van would look rather bizarre hanging above the altar of my church. When Christ sacrificed his life, he knew he was setting himself up for cruxifixion, the most painful and undignified mode of execution in use. Again, Kevorkian shows he is devoid of understanding of humanity. And it speaks volumes about the pro-euthanasia movement that it pretends that this man is a crusader for a larger cause, rather than a grown-up version of the little boy who pulls wings off flies.

Not that some euthanasia supporters aren’t just a bit queasy after this latest round of killings. "Sooner or later, someone will die for the wrong reasons," conceded a USA Today editorial, not specifying what the right reasons are.

Others warned that if we don’t watch it, we’ll slide down the slippery slope. As if we haven’t already? Jack Kevorkian is a one-man slippery slope. He keeps loosening the definition of who "deserves" to die. Originally he saw the need to pretend that his clients/patients/victims were in great pain and on death’s doorstep. But after the latest killings he admitted, "It had nothing do with lethality. It’s quality of life . . . . Quality of life."

Ol’ Doc Death is just tryin’ to get the camel’s nose into the tent.

This evolution was utterly predictable. It’s called the "camel’s nose" effect. The camel puts his nose into the tent to see if he can get away with it. If so, he keeps moving in until he’s fully inside, hump and hooves.

Those on both sides of the euthanasia debate in the United States are fully aware of the history of legal euthanasia in the Netherlands. It began with a doctor responding to the wishes of her terminally ill mother who was in much pain. Within a few decades it encompassed killing infants born with non-fatal diseases — Down’s syndrome and spina bifida. Patients in persistent vegetative states, often incorrectly referred to as "comatose," are also now legally killable in Holland.

According to a Dutch government survey, doctors there kill some 20,000 patients a year, most without the patients’ consent. The difference is that the Dutch took decades to get to that point, while Kevorkian is trying to bring the whole camel in within a matter of years. And damned if he isn’t getting away with it.

We need to ask ourselves right now if we want to follow Dr. Death down the Dutch path or if we’re going to treat human life as sacred. In other words, we tell our doctors that they are to follow the Hippocratic Oath they took and "first do no harm." Executioners kill; doctors are supposed to heal. And "Dr. Death" is a contradiction in terms.