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The killing joke

I loathe Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

The man is a freak, a ghoul, an abomination. He has made himself the punchline to jokes for decades.

He has also made himself the face of a cause I happen to believe in, and through association has made the whole issue a bad joke.

I am, as my colleague Kim refers to us, a part of the "death culture." I believe that people who are terminally ill, who are facing a prolonged period of unabated suffering before a prolonged demise, should have the right to end their suffering and pass on with what dignity they might have left. And if they are physically incapable of doing so on their own, they should be able to request assistance from a willing person without fearing that the assistant will not be thrown in jail for showing mercy.

(No, I did not use all those euphemisms as a way of avoiding the issue, but as a stylistic choice to avoid repetition. I am not afraid of the term "death." If you prefer, here's another version:

I believe that people who are dying, who are facing a prolonged period of unabated suffering before a prolonged death, should have the right to commit suicide and die with what dignity they might have left. And if they are physically incapable of killing themselves on their own, they should be able to ask someone to kill them without fearing that the assistant will not be thrown in jail for killing them.)

This is a position I have chosen based both on reason and personal experience.

Politically, I am a mishmash. The best definition I have found for myself is "independent." In a longer version, "militant moderate, with strong neo-conservative, libertarian, and libertine leanings" sums up most of my beliefs. And in this case, the libertarian impulse is foremost.

If we own nothing else in this world, we own ourselves. We have the right to do with ourselves as we wish, as long as we do not infringe on the rights of others. And, unless a case can be made that the individual is mentally unsound, there are circumstances when continuing to live is simply intolerable. Terminal illness, with no hope of cure and a guarantee of suffering, is one of those cases. No one should be compelled to remain a prisoner of a failing body, in continuing pain and growing infirmity, until their body finally fails them. They should have the right to say "I choose to end my suffering now, in a time and manner of my choosing, and not at some future date after I live through hell."

On a personal side, I've seen a loved one die after months of wasting away from cancer. I saw a vibrant, energetic woman turned into a living skeleton, in constant pain, utterly dependent on caregivers, begging for relief that she was denied.

And I, myself, very well might have to face such a choice some day.

I don't talk about my personal problems much, but I have a medical condition I don't like to discuss on this blog. It's not so much a matter of privacy as I don't want to be tagged as "that blogger with condition X." I don't want people constantly asking me about it, advising me on it, sending me the latest updates on research, associating every thing I say to it, excusing what I say because of it, or in any way associating me with my condition. In short, I have X; X does not have me.

But that particular condition is very relevant to this matter. It is incurable. It can be slowed, but in the end it most likely will kill me. And before then, it will ravage my body and make my life a living hell.

I don't want to live like that. At some point, should my condition assail me to the point where I can no longer do many of the things I enjoy (which has already started), I end up crippled and in constant pain, I want the right to say "screw this" and check out. I don't want to spend my remaining time on earth a helpless, hopeless lump wracked with pain.

But for reasons that they consider fine and noble and worthy, many people wish to deny me that. They think that it is a greater evil to allow me to end my suffering than to compel me to endure it -- literally, for the rest of my life.

Right now, it is still an abstract issue to me, so I can stay philosophical and polite about the matter. But some day the issue will be a very real and very imminent one, and I will promise each and every one of you that I will not be so civil.

I will rage, rage against those who will not let me go gentle into that good night.

Comments (33)

His judgement stank. He ki... (Below threshold)

His judgement stank. He killed too many depressed people, and singlehandedly warped, probably permanently, the rational suicide debate.

I'm in favor of letting peo... (Below threshold)

I'm in favor of letting people kill themselves, when the situation demands it.

But I do object to Kevorkian. Too many of his "clients" were in fairly good shape, physically, and could have done the job without his help.

Whatever happened to the "can do" spirit? Why hire someone to hook you up to a machine to inject yourself with chemicals, when there are plenty of perfectly good tall buildings, railroad tracks, and lakes all over the place?

Oh, and just in case 'Condi... (Below threshold)

Oh, and just in case 'Condition X' is DNA related, it is important to keep that information in the genome. That it has survived this long probably means there is some reason for it, though it may be lost in the fog over the teleological swamps. So trudge out, go forth, and add.

Or it it divide and conquer?

I agree with you for the mo... (Below threshold)

I agree with you for the most part. I do believe the person afflicted should do the deed themselves. It is not right or fair to get another to do it. We have a word for that in society and it is murder. Suicide is not against the law. Assisted suicide is just a made up word for murder similar to Choice instead of abortion.

There is also a question of selfishness involved. If you have family that love you and love to be with you, you still have a significant value to people. Then on the spiritual realm there is even more to consider, but I know your stance on faith. This is perplexing to say the least. Ending a life is very serious business. ww

Oh, and just in case 'Condi... (Below threshold)

Oh, and just in case 'Condition X' is DNA related, remember, it is important to keep that information in the genome. That it has survived this long, probably means that it has some survival value, though the advantage may be indiscernable in the mists over the teleological swamps. So trudge out, go forth, and add. Or is it divide and conquer.

Nice metaphor for life: Divide, Add, Multiply, Subtract.

Jay,I think you ha... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:


I think you have a double negative in the following sentence.

And if they are physically incapable of doing so on their own, they should be able to request assistance from a willing person without fearing that the assistant will not be thrown in jail for showing mercy.

It's Friday and my brain is already in weekend mode, so I could be wrong, but the bolded "not" in the above sentence seems to be wrong.

A few thoughts:Kev... (Below threshold)

A few thoughts:

Kevorkian liked killing, that was part of the thing. Also, there was question in a couple cases about whether or not the victim truly desired to die, or was talked into it by Kevorkian. As you say, Kevorkian stained the debate by using the situation for his own grisly amusement.

I won't tell anyone what to do with their life, but "incurable" is not always an absolute. The condition I have was called "terminal" just 10 years ago, and some doctors still think it is, because the clinical trials have been for too few patients and for less than 15 years with results to show long-term survivability and quality-of-life results, but in my case and others there has been remarkable progress in recent years, and what was impossible just a few years ago is now very much thinkable.

I do not believe I will ever take my own life. Morally, it is my belief that I do not own that right. God may kill me, or it may happen through the course of events or some unstoppable situation that I will die before what I think is 'my time'. But until such time, I will take each day as God grants, thankful for my wife and daughter and every blessing given to me. May God grant me a spirit of gratitude to respond to such gifts, always. Again, anyone else must walk the road they find before them, and I will not condemn anyone for their choice. But as for me, I accept my place and limits.

Best of luck, Jay. I hope t... (Below threshold)
Farmer Joe:

Best of luck, Jay. I hope things go well for you.

I agree with you, both about assisted suicide and about Kavorkian.

kim, just don't forget the ... (Below threshold)

kim, just don't forget the imaginary numbers!

DJ, well said. I do have a ... (Below threshold)

DJ, well said. I do have a problem with someone "assisting" another with killing themselves. That is a road that deserves our judgement. ww

Jay,But f... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:


But for reasons that they consider fine and noble and worthy, many people wish to deny me that. They think that it is a greater evil to allow me to end my suffering than to compel me to endure it -- literally, for the rest of my life.

People impose life on you for fear of the slippery slope, which history tends to validate, or they impose it on you for religious beliefs. As long as the law allows abortion, it should allow sane people in bad situations a way to escape if that's their choice. Until such time there is a way out. Just blog something derogatory about Islam under your real name. The death squads still makes house calls.

I'm against altering the es... (Below threshold)

I'm against altering the establishment of medicine for this purpose.

Medicine should remain geared to making you well. They minds, hearts, and souls should be dedicated to that end.

The minute death becomes a treatment option, you give the organization an easy way out to 'heal' you.

I am involved in bringing new products to market. When there is a problem before we go into production, people will work hard to resolve it. But when it becomes difficult problem to solve and killing the new product is put on the table, the latter option is implimented almost instantly.

Put death on the table as an option and the consideration for 'aggressive' or 'experimental' treatments will go away.

You keep using that word (d... (Below threshold)

You keep using that word (dignity); I do not think it means what you think it means.

Dignity: "the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect"
There is nothing honorable or respectable about murder, and there is nothing "dignified" in suicide. It is a repugnant and cowardly action.

jpm100, I have to agree wit... (Below threshold)

jpm100, I have to agree with you about changing the basic purpose of medicine and the oath "Do no harm".

It's a difficult profession, but allowing medical professionals the option to take an active part in killing their patients, subverts what medicine is all about. There is already too much temptation for a doctor to let a patient go out of 'mercy'. If a family wants the patient die for their own selfish reasons and is willing to either lie or pay off the doctor, the death can be meerly written off as 'assisted suicide'.

It also gives the medical professionals an easy out. If they can't treat the patient sucessfully, or they have too many patients, or too many 'unprofitable' patients, they can go the 'assisted suicide' route.

I'm guessing Parkinson's.</... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

I'm guessing Parkinson's.

I have seen people in my family waste away from cancer. It ain't pretty, but they seemed to be well treated for pain and were surrounded by loved ones to the end.

Choosing to kill yourself is your right, and one that people cannot deprive you of even if they wanted to. Involving other people and an entire society in your choice is another thing entirely.

I am not convinced of your premise of people desiring to but being "physically incapable of killing themselves." It is certainly possible, but not normative. All it takes it a handful of pills or a plastic bag. Rather, it seems to me that intestinal fortitude is what is really lacking. There is a desire to pass the responsibility for your decision onto someone else to make it "easier." As WW said, "Ending a life is very serious business." It shouldn't be easy.

Some of the pain medication administration I have seen borders on assisted suicide. The patient receives heavy doses of morphine or some other drug, till breathing slows to a stop. The difference is intent. The intent is to use extraordinary means to treat the pain. Death can be a side-effect. I am convinced that this happens with a wink and a nod. I understand it.

However, a social seal of approval for assisted suicide WILL lead to assisted decision-making. Don't thrust your own mores on the rest of us.

Kozaburo, I don't think you... (Below threshold)

Kozaburo, I don't think you have thought through the issue. And to me, 'dignity' refers to the person, not the condition. When he was executed by Cromwell's Roundheads , Charles wore an extra shirt against the cold, so the he would not be seen to shiver. That is dignity.

Socrates accepted an unfair court verdict which condemned him to death, and drank the hemlock himself. This was to show that he believed the rule of law was so essential, it even trumped justice. That is dignity.

What is repugnant about letting a man choose his course? While I consider it beyond my moral right to kill myself, who am I to tell someone they must suffer, that their family must endure months or years of slow horror?

In the weeks after my initial diagnosis, I had to face the strong possibility that I would die soon. When you have to face that as a reality, you see things in a much different light then those happy folk who do not have to look Death in the face.

Have you considered your own mortality? Your words suggest you have not.

And I have doubts about that word, 'suicide'. Sure, if I get depressed and kill myself, that's suicide. But just a few days ago, we were thinking about D-Day, and some of those men ran into battle knowing they were likely to be killed, especially the first guys off the boats. We don't call that 'suicide', we call that 'valor'.

I don't think that word always means what you think it means. I don't think you have considered the matter very far at all.

I remember that phrase "Dea... (Below threshold)

I remember that phrase "Death with dignity" tossed around with Terry Schiavo. Dignity is wearing a stylish bowler while undergoing chemo. To be starved to death was not dignified.

P.S.I forgot about... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:


I forgot about the issue of Living Wills and DNRs. It is already legally your choice to refuse treatment, food, water, and efforts at resuscitation. This is an effective and less drastic measure than asking someone else to kill you when you do not desire to prolong your life.

Terro Schiavo never asked t... (Below threshold)

Terro Schiavo never asked to die, Vagabond.

That is the distinction.

... speaking as a Cancer pa... (Below threshold)

... speaking as a Cancer patient, what about wearing unstylish Bowling shirts while undergoing Chemo?

While I believe it is wrong... (Below threshold)

While I believe it is wrong to commit suicide, I also believe it is your right, and your decision. It does not physically affect anyone other than you. (Psychologially it's a different story.

The medical side of things is another story, however. The Hippocratic Oath, original form, specifically proscribed physicians taking any affirmative action to end a life. The modern form allows it, but states that physicians should not "play at God." You can see my thoughts here in a discussion of the Oregon assisted suicide law. Here's what I wrote then:

Hippocrates had it right. When a physician takes it upon himself, in consultation with the patient, to decide matters of life and death, rather than to understand those matters he errs. The Oregon assisted suicide law puts the physician in the position of violating an inviolable clause of the classical Hippocratic Oath. In the modern version of the oath there is the confusing call to be humble and aware of my own frailty in approaching the taking of a life, but to not play God. The law has put the physician in the position of playing God, and violating even the modern version of the oath..

As I wrote then, if the state wants to set up a panel to decide assisted suicide petitions and administer the drugs themselves, well, it's wrong and surely a dangerous precedent, but at least it's not drafting an army of physicians into a purpose at odds with the oath of their calling.

That was my ponit DJ about ... (Below threshold)

That was my ponit DJ about TS's case. I probably didn't make it very well. What I meant was I heard "Death with Dignity" to advocate killing her by starvation although there was nothing dignified about her death. As far as unstylish bowling shirts....as long as you are wearing a parka.

But Jay is talking about hi... (Below threshold)

But Jay is talking about his choice, not imposing it on someone else.

... and dude, I'm in Sou... (Below threshold)

... and dude, I'm in South Texas, wearing a parka could kill me!

We have given the medical p... (Below threshold)

We have given the medical profession enormous responsibility over our lives because we have always beleived they would hold themselves to the principle that they will do whatever they could to preserve our lives.

A physician's opinion holds tremendous sway over our decision making. We trust that they will not do anything that would put us at risk. Even nowadays when civil courts are packed with cases regarding malpactice, we still listen to our doctors and value their expertise and opinions regarding our lives.

Consider that the physician who is now allowed to assist in suicides. Would that doctor now feel free to push a patient towards that final option in serious, but no necessarily fatal, conditions? Would a doctor who can now 'flip the switch' on patients, be more willing to advise the elderly patient to end painful chemotherapy 'for the sake of the family'? Would that doctor be more willing to prescribe the fatal drug for a handicapped patient, or hand it over to that patient's caretaker?

Could we look at our medical professionals again, without wondering if they were prepared to 'help' us prematurely?

In many cultures, from Amer... (Below threshold)
Robert the Original:

In many cultures, from American Indian to some in Africa, an old person will just walk into the woods, or ride off into the sunset, to die.

So as not to be a burden on the tribe.

And this is also tradition and morality, and yes dignity, even if it is not your morality.

This is a complex problem with many scenarios and it probably does not lend itself to one pat answer. The older one gets the more likely one has contact with this difficulty - first hand - with family or self.

I can only wish you strength and wisdom.

This on the heals of findin... (Below threshold)

This on the heals of finding that the Swiss are assisting suides at a breakneck speed, without proper consideration of the "patient's" illness. That's the slippery slope in action. While many people (I won't say most) fully understand why a person would choose the route of suicide - assisted or otherwise - they do indeed fear that slippery slope. It's an unimaginable decision I hope I am never faced with, but how many had other options they were not aware of?

This is another aspect of "universal healthcare" that frightens me. Another slippery slope. In the UK they're floating the idea that if someone engages in the activity that causes them to need medical care or an operation that could fix them, they can be refused that care. Why? Because the government gaveth and the government can taketh.

. and dude, I'm in... (Below threshold)
. and dude, I'm in South Texas, wearing a parka could kill me! Posted by: DJ Drummond at June 8, 2007 03:27 PM/

If you really think Houston is "SOUTH TEXAS" try driving another 350 miles south and you'll find Brownsville. It is even hotter there and they don't own parkas. It is called a jaqueta. :) smirk.

Politically, I am a mish... (Below threshold)

Politically, I am a mishmash. The best definition I have found for myself is "independent." In a longer version, "militant moderate, with strong neo-conservative, libertarian, and libertine leanings" sums up most of my beliefs.

Jay, you're a conservative who just disagrees with the platform on a handful of issues. That doesn't make you a "moderate", nor a "libertarian". Though I understand why you're embarrassed to admit it.

Brian, you're a sourpuss, a... (Below threshold)

Brian, you're a sourpuss, and it's obvious with each post. A remarkable accomplishment, really.

Jay Tea, sorry to hear of s... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea, sorry to hear of something ailing you. Whatever our political disagreements.

Kevorkian is also definitely a creepy-ass mf'er. I've seen some of his paintings. The guy even looks like death.

That said, he is the unfortunate PR face of a legitimate issue, what people have the right to do with their own lives in their own bodies.

No easy answers here.

i understand this. my mothe... (Below threshold)

i understand this. my mother died 5 weeks ago. she had a stroke 3 years ago; my 93 year old father cared for her for 3 years. the night she had the stroke, i prayed desperately that God would see fit to spare her life. He did; then I watched her suffer, some days more than others, for the next 3 years.

if i could change what happened, however, i probably wouldn't. i believe God has sovereignty. He could have taken her, if He chose, that night. i grew to love her in a way i hadn't before; those days are precious to me now

i do not wish suffering on anyone. hospice came, the last few weeks. there are drugs for every pain and condition. if it were me, i don't know what i would have done. i hate stroke. stroke steals.

but what kevorkian did was wrong. deeper investigation of him reveals his fixation with death. at the root of much of this culture of death is something very dark and evil.

but i understand the desire to end the life at one's own choosing. i can only say, however, that my mother, as "undignified" as some would have called her end, did not complain, nor did she moan, nor did she wish early for death. in fact, she prepared herself every day. even in the last week, my father would not pray for her to leave, what he considered, to be "early."

life is what it is. some lives are more comfortable than others. i can only say that i treasure those last years with my mother. she is home, now.

To Life, huh?=======... (Below threshold)

To Life, huh?






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