“Doctor Death”

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Dr. Jack Kevorkian also known as “Doctor Death,” was a medical pathologist who willfully assisted dozens of terminally ill people end their lives.  Before he passed away at age 83 in 2011, he become the central figure in the drama surrounding the ethical issue of assisted suicide nation wide.  In arguing for the right of the terminally ill to choose how and when they die, Dr. Kervorkian challenged social taboos about disease and dying while defying prosectors and the courts.  He spent eight years in prison after being convicted of a second-degree murder in the death of about 130 ailing patients whose lives he had helped end, beginning in the year of 1990.  He was originally sentenced to 10-25 years in 1999, after making an agreement with authorities that he would never perform an assisted suicide again. But because his first assisted suicide took place in Oregon, where state lawnmakers had made it legal for doctors to prescribe lethal medications to help terminally ill patients end their lives, in 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court decided a lower court ruling.  The Unites States Supreme Court found that Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act protected assisted suicide as a legitimate medical practice.  During the time period where Oregon was considering it’s law, Dr. Kevorkian gained much scrutiny from critics and even agreement from supporters.

In the late 1980’s after an undistinguished career in medicine, Dr. Kevorkian rediscovered his previous fascination of death, only now his interest was not private but a matter of public policy.  After graduating from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1952, he later became a resident at the University of Michigan Medical Center where Dr. Kevorkian proposed giving murderers condemned to die the option of being executed with anesthesia in order to subject their bodies to medical experimentation and allow the harvesting of their healthy organs. He delivered a paper on the subject to a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1958.

From May 1994 to June 1997, Dr. Kevorkian stood trial four times for the deaths of six different patients.  On March 26, 1999, after a trial that lasted less than two days, a Michigan jury found Dr. Kevorkian guilty of second-degree murder. That trial came six months after Dr. Kevorkian had videotaped himself injecting “Thomas Youk, a patient suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), with the lethal drugs that caused Mr. Youk’s death on September 17, 1998”.  Dr. Kevorkian sent the videotape to the new program “60 Minutes,” which broadcast it on November 22. The tape showed Dr. Kevorkian going well beyond assisting a patient in causing his own death by performing the injection himself. The broadcast, which prompted a national debate about medical ethics and media responsibility, also served as prime evidence for the first-degree murder charge brought by the Oakland County prosecutor’s office.

Dr. Kevorkian was known as “a reckless instrument of death” who “poses a great threat to the public.”  I’m not sure if I view Dr. Kevorkian as a threat because I do not consider him a murderer.  I believe that he was only conducting these assisted suicides because they were wanted by the patients in the first place.  In the end a little part of me still considers it  an unethical practice since he was conducting these assisted suicides illegally, but I do believe if it is your body, then it is your choice.  If a patient is terminally ill I believe he or she should choose the way they would like to go.

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3 thoughts on ““Doctor Death”

  1. Even though helping 130 people died because of Dr. Kevorkian he wasn’t killing them in an evil manner but in a manner of helping them. If these people were already going to die because they are terminally ill and wanted to die, then I do not see how it can be considered murder. It would be sadder if those people chose to kill themselves in a way such as hanging or overdosing on pills. I do not think it is right to help kill people, but these people were suffering and not in a good state of mind. I would not want to live my life miserable everyday or not even know what is going on because that is not the quality of life I would want to live.

  2. Do you think that as a society, it is hard for us to believe in assisted suicide? We are taught from a young age that life is valuable. Yet, Dr. Jack Kevorkian challenged society norms and was not afraid to do what he believed was right. However, do you believe that he went too far in recording himself in assisted suicide and sending the video to “60 Minutes?” Was he trying to make a statement or was he getting a little bit too carried away with it? Either way, Dr. Kevorkian took us out of our comfort zone and really made society question what it right or wrong.

  3. Dr. Kevorkian was headline news. His name was the first one to bring euthanasia to our homes, through the newspapers and television sets. The country divided between Kevorkian the Killer or Kevorkian the merciful.

    I think in the beginning he wanted to bring attention to the right of the patient to decide when enough was enough but in the end he came to like the attention too much and the focus shifted from the patients to the doctor. By the time of his 60 Minutes episode he had crossed the line to sensationalism. Doctor Death had emerged; but through his emergence he’d opened the conversation about the right to live as you wish and die when you choose.

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