I recently found out that Jack Kevorkian had passed on this past June. Here’s a post I wrote back in February 2009 when I saw him at an appearance at Nova Southeastern University.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian has a sense of humor. He started the Thursday night lecture by asking us how come we didn’t have anything better to do that night! At least he was there because he was giving the talk! Frail in his over 80 years of age, his rhetoric is anything but.
When I saw the ad for his lecture I immediately decided to attend no matter what. I missed a good friend’s birthday party to attend. And that’s saying a lot. But something really called me to go.
I remembered hearing of his activities on the news back in the 90s and finally hearing he had been arrested and jailed. I always wondered about his motives and wanted to meet him and talk to him. “He went too far” I thought back then. But in general I agreed with his point of view and didn’t understand why others couldn’t see it.
Maybe it was because my father committed suicide. He would always tell the family that when the time came and he lost his quality of life he would do it. He didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.
Maybe it was because recently my aunt spent over a year between the hospital and home while the medical bills mounted for my cousin who is now considering bankruptcy. Was it humane to keep her, a person with failing kidneys, failing lungs, and failing heart, on dialysis, on a respirator, and on a heart defibrillator all at the same time? Was it humane to keep her artificially alive and drugged with pain medicines while her gangrened leg from diabetes was amputated? How far do we go to keep a person alive? Keep them alive while we chop them up into little pieces? When do we say: “It’s enough.Disconnect her”.
Human medicine has evolved so far that a person in a vegetative state can be maintained alive for over 30 years by means of a feeding tube. We can now prolong almost indefinitely diseases that used to kill us in hours or days. We die of very painful diseases in a very inhumane way. In my opinion, my dog died more humanely when he was put to sleep.
Do we have a right to choose the way we die? It’s a subject that’s as controversial as it can get. It combines a taboo subject (death) with religion, legality and morality. It mixes into a potentially explosive combination.
I thought the setting of Nova Southeastern University was very appropriate since students have always been the ones to question the status quo. Nova is exploring “Life and Death” as its annual academic theme. Imagine a whole year on that subject! Yikes!
Dr. Kevorkian likes to be provocative. He wants to shock us into opening up our minds and thinking beyond what he calls the “propaganda” we’ve been fed through all the years. According to him, we are taught from a young age, over and over again, that America is the “Land of the Free”. That there is no other country like America.
As it turns out, he says, the Netherlands is far freer than we are.
At first he sounded too radical, too extremist, too “conspiracy theory”. I’d heard it all before: They used 9/11 to take away our rights; the Patriot Act removed some more, under the guise of protecting us, but no one rebels, no one says anything; the Supreme Court is corrupt; the powers that be want to control us, etc. etc.
But slowly, little by little, his point became more and more obvious to me: that we have rights that don’t need enumeration and our laws are actually used to “block” our rights instead of defending them.
The central theme of Kevorkian’s message is the 9th amendment to the constitution. He calls it the most important amendment to the highest law of the land. “…The highest law on the land” he kept repeating.
How many people in the audience knew the text of 9th amendment? I certainly didn’t. He asked, and not one of the almost 4,000 attendees raised their hand. He was quick to let us know it wasn’t unusual we hadn’t paid attention to it, since it has never been challenged or used by the Supreme or any other court. “But it’s the most important amendment”.
He read it to us: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”. He paused. He called it “Beautifully written. Simple, direct and to the point”. He went on to explain that basically it means that we have other rights than the ones listed on the constitution. They don’t have to be written. We just have them. Rosa Parks had the right to sit anywhere on the bus she wanted to. She was born with the right. I extrapolated: Women could always vote. They had the right. They just didn’t know it. The 19th amendment allowing women to vote was not needed. I was sold.
He admitted that his ideas were radical. That was the point! He went on to give us an alternative to jails for crimes, and to go over a study about the major dictatorships and what they had in common.He went through the 14 commonality points while comparing each with the United States. There were items like “Encouraging an intense sense of Nationalism; flag wearing and worship; questioning people’s patriotism; aligning against one common enemy; pursuit of military supremacy; control of the media. One by one they all fit. Are we truly that free? Are we fascists? Wow! That’s radical!
I was lost in thought, and before I knew it, his lecture was over and it was time for a Q&A period. Poor Jack couldn’t hear most of the questions being asked! Someone forgot to arrange for someone to repeat back to him the questions. Or fix his hearing aid! But after making everyone repeat the question at least twice, he managed to get through them one by one. Up to now he hadn’t once mentioned assisted suicide or the right to die, which was the supposed subject of the lecture. Now the questions referred to more of the same. When was he going to talk about death?
Finally a bold student asked him “Can you please talk about your experience with assisted suicide and euthanasia?” The crowd exploded in cheers and applause. It was what we all had come to hear.
His answer: “I’m on parole and one of the conditions is that I can’t talk about how to assist in suicides.”“Invite me back in May when I’ll be off parole and can say whatever I want”. Huge roaring Laughter from the crowd.
“But I’ll tell you: I did it on purpose” he answered. “I wanted to call attention to the issue and bring the 9th amendment under discussion. I knew and expected to be arrested. What I didn’t expect is to stay in jail. I thought I would take my defense to the Supreme Court. But I couldn’t get even my state’s supreme court to hear it. The Supreme Court wouldn’t touch it! They’re too corrupt. They know that any national discussion about the 9th amendment would undermine their capacity to control of the people.”
Q: What would you say to someone who says that euthanasia is against their religion? A: You have the right to choose the way you die, so don’t use euthanasia. But don’t impose on me your dogma.
Q: Why did you create the machine that administered the euthanasia? A: Because I didn’t want have to do it myself!
Question: Why did you push the button on your machine on 60 minutes? Answer: Because the person couldn’t do it herself! When you’re paralyzed from the neck down, there’s no way you can push a button!
Q: Will he be using euthanasia on himself? A: If the moment comes and I’m not dead yet, yes.
Q: Wouldn’t you be playing God? A: Doctors are always playing God.
I was really enjoying the back and forth, but time was up. The Dean thanked him for coming and let us know that he would be available for book signing. But the best was yet to come! “Wait. One more thing”. With the help of an assistant, Kevorkian hung a huge American flag behind him. “This is us in reality”. Then turned it around to reveal another American flag where the stars were arranged in the shape of a swastika. How’s that for a shocker? That definitely elicited booing and offended many attendees. A guy sitting on the first started screaming and yelling at him, and security had to be called. That was the end of the lecture, of an unusual night on an unusual subject with an unusual messenger. Remember, he did it on purpose. To make you think.
Other memorable Kevorkian radicalism:
During Roman times, it was widely known that you could go to a doctor and plead your case. If the doctor deemed your situation worthy, you would get the poison. We’ve gone backwards, not forward.
The Hippocratic Oath comes from the Pythagoreans from ancient Greece, support for it grew with Christianity.
Once euthanasia is legalized, the rate of suicide among the elderly (the highest rate among all age groups) will plummet.
He receives and has received thousands of letters and the majority of them, including from the medical profession, agree with him that we have the right to die. People from other countries write to ask “What’s wrong with your country?”
He’s for ministry sanctuaries instead of jail – We build more and more prisons. What do we get? More and more crime. Nothing is done to try to rehabilitate or bring back to society those who have made a mistake. There is no redemption possibility. Sanctuaries provide for redemption and improvement of society.
There are three states where euthanasia is expressly illegal: Washington State, Oregon and Montana