Goodbye to Jack Kevorkian

Dr. Jack Kevorkian died earlier today at the age of 83.

He was known as “Dr. Death” to most of the public but “Dr. Dignity” to a lot of Humanists because of how he helped people end their lives on their own terms.

“Somebody has to do something for suffering humanity,” Kevorkian once said. “I put myself in my patients’ place. This is something I would want.”

[Former attorney Geoffrey] Fieger said Friday that Kevorkian didn’t accept money and “never gained any wealth” for assisting in suicides, and he was sorry to him imprisoned for his actions.

“I did not want him to be a martyr because I cared for him and I loved him,” Fieger said.

I remember doing a report on him for one of my pre-med seminars in college. My friend and I didn’t know that much about him, only that he was “some bad guy” who was in prison because he helped murder people.

Well, that’s what we thought we knew.

As we did our research on him, we were appalled by what we found out. This wasn’t some evil guy hellbent on killing old people. He was just trying to ease their suffering by helping them die peacefully — at their own behest.

In theory, anyway. It turned out not every patient he helped die was terminally ill… but did that matter if it was their decision? Shouldn’t everyone have the right to choose how they live — and how to die?

I also remember showing clips of a South Park episode in which Stan’s grandfather wants to die and needs Stan’s help to do it.

I don’t think the doctors in charge liked our presentation very much… But we thought it was pretty damn educational.

Sure, there were some questionable things Kevorkian believed — like suggesting that we ought to test new medications on death row prisoners. But the thing he was most well-known for was really not that understood by the general public.

The American Humanist Association even backed “Beneficient Euthanisia” in 1974, later awarding Kevorkian their 1994 Humanist Hero Award. In a statement released today, AHA spoke favorably of him:

“Dr. Kevorkian led a crusade for the right of those who wanted the freedom to end their suffering,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “His unwavering determination in the face of protest, and even legal repercussions, was a testament to his strong conviction and compassion.”

“Dr. Kevorkian’s contributions to medicine and mankind are great,” concluded Speckhardt. “He gave energy to the ‘death with dignity’ movement and brought this important civil liberties issue to the forefront. History will thank him for that.”


  • Jessica

    We may not have seen eye to eye on everything, but he was a good man. People should be able to die in dignity and without pain. RIP Dr.

  • runawayuniverse

    Much respect

  • Stephanie

    I wish more people would consider quality of life issues over quantity of life. My mother had to deal with that twice- once when her mother’s living will was being fought by a hospital in the early eighties, and again when she refused treatment for her own metastasized lung cancer. Both times, I watched others fight her who seemed to have no concern for life beyond its potential extension. It was disgusting. In the end, my mother wasted away without treatment and I spent many hours by her bedside wondering if she would ask me to ease her suffering and help her die. I still wonder some days if the only reason she didn’t was because she didn’t want me to suffer the consequences within state law and social norms.

  • http://theotheratheists.net Jaybarti

    I find myself strangely affected and saddened by this news. I know little of mr Kevorkian besides his stance on death with dignity. The few interviews I saw however, he was always passionate about the quality of life and the right to exit life on ones own terms, which was something I could respect. That he was out there un-afraid to speak about such things does him credit. R.I.P Jack, you will be remembered.

  • CanadianNihilist

    Sad to see him go, and what’s wrong with testing new medications on death row prisoners? not like they’re useful in any other way.

  • http://fryonic.tumblr.com/ Fryonic

    I was surprised to see you cover this topic. But now that you have, I can see how Dr. K relates to atheism/skepticism.

    Thanks for sharing the information about him as well as yourself.

  • Nordog

    Given that he was a pathologist, it’s no wonder he had problems with the idea that his patients were still breathing. Don’t forget that many, if not most, of the people he dispatched were not terminally ill.

    Of course, the case is often made that to live or not should be a personal choice.

    Be that as it may, those non-terminally ill patients were still ill. They were still weak and traumatized. Many were depressed.

    If you have a loved one who’s depressed, would you want to help them recover, or would you want them referred to a pathologist obsessed with killing emotionally weak, traumatized and depressed people?

    The guy was obsessed with death. He was a ghoul. This is evident to anyone who has ever seen a selection of his paintings.

    He was not a man respecting individual dignity. He was a man lusting for the death of others.

    There are people who make a strong case in favor of euthanasia.

    Jack wasn’t one of them.

  • Zach

    Nordog, did you even read Hemant’s commentary?

  • Nordog

    Nordog, did you even read Hemant’s commentary?

    You mean things like the following? You bet.

    But the thing he was most well-known for was really not that understood by the general public.

    Just doing my part to remedy the “not that understood” part of the general public.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    RIP Dr K. And thanks for bringing humanity decisions to those who wanted to make their own decisions in life and death.

  • k

    @CanadianNihilist
    “Sad to see him go, and what’s wrong with testing new medications on death row prisoners? not like they’re useful in any other way.”

    Death row prisoners are human beings like any others and deserve to have at least their basic human rights respected. One of those rights presumably is to not have to undergo medical testing without informed consent and the promise of adequate treatment for any ill effects of the tests.

    Many countries have sordid histories of doing medical experiments on their least wanted members, which often included (and still does in some countries) prisoners. The wikipedia page here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_experimentation_in_the_United_States
    will get you started on some of the abuses perpetrated just in the United States. I don’t know about Canada but seeing as this was a popular thing to do in pretty much every industrialized country, I wouldn’t doubt that this happened there too.

    On a purely scientific note, death row prisoners are not exactly a representative sample of the wider human population for a large number of reasons and so do not really make the best subjects for tests that are supposed to have generalizable results.

  • CanadianNihilist

    That really depends on the type of test doesn’t it?
    Also I respectfully disagree with you K, I do not believe that:
    “Death row prisoners are human beings like any others and deserve to have at least their basic human rights respected.”

    They are clearly not like any other human and I would argue that they threw there rights away. All they do is take up tax dollars to shelter/guard/entertain/feed and clothe these people, I see little use for them other than medical or military testing. If you’re going to kill them anyways you might as well advance something in the posses.

  • Kamaka

    @ CanadianNihilist

    They are clearly not like any other human and I would argue that they threw there (sic) rights away.

    Unless they were wrongfully convicted?

    Governor George Ryan on his commutation of the death penalty for all “Death Row” inmates in Illinois: “Because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious – and therefore immoral – I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”

  • MH

    Frankly Kevorkian always creeped me out. Besides some of his patients not being terminally ill, one woman may have only had a psychosomatic illness. So he really didn’t do due diligence. The final straw was his killing someone who not physically able to kill himself.

  • NotYou007

    You will be missed.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    I’m not sure Dr Death ought to be lionized. He clearly had something of a “death fetish” dating well before he started advocating assisted suicide. He had this thing about photographing the open eyes of dying and dead patients. (Eeeew.)

    Oh, and Kevorkian didn’t want just to test new medications on death-row prisoners. He wanted to engage in vivisection … i.e. dissecting living, breathing people.

    He latched onto the assisted-suicide notion, so that he could work out a way to be with people as they died, and watch them — and photograph their eyes — as they did so. (Eeeeek!)

    Let’s praise people who really, truly deserve to be praised. I get that Kevorkian advanced the cause of assisted suicide … but it’s not necessarily because he believed in it. Rather, it was so he could indulge his own pathological impulses.

    And then there’s the point that Geoffrey Fieger, of all people, was his champion and spokesman. (Double eeeek!)

    Kevorkian was no saint, and should not be made out to be one, now that he’s dead.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    If I ever get to a point where I am unable to care for myself, or am terminally ill, I hope someone as compassionate as Dr. K. will help me to leave this world in peace.

  • Dark Jaguar

    PsiCop, where are you getting this information?

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Dark Jaguar,

    It’s been around for a while. You can read some cursory information about it in the Answers.com article on Kevorkian. Yeah, this includes a Wikipedia article on him, but aside from that, it also has information from more bona fide biography sources, and this information is mentioned in those.

  • Nordog

    Like I said, the man was a ghoul.

  • Dark Jaguar

    I’ll have to review that. I won’t say anything further on him until I do.

  • MH

    PBS’s Frontline also did an episode on Kevorkian back in the 90′s. It’s worth a look if you can find it online, and that show is what made me so creeped out by him.

  • Theophania

    In the early 60s, Kevorkian was researching cadaveric blood transfusion. While this is definitely a worthy enterprise, Kevorkian took blood from cadavers without obtaining consent from next-of-kin and transfused it into live patients, again, without obtaining informed consent. This man cared nothing for medical ethics. Everything he did was self-serving.


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