The Magazine

The Serial Killer as Folk Hero

Kevorkian proceeds with his plan.

Jul 6, 1998, Vol. 3, No. 42 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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If Michigan law enforcement and public opinion swallow Phase Two -- as seems likely, considering the blase public reaction to Tushkowski's mutilation, the deafening silence about it from most of Michigan's and the nation's political leaders, and the shrug of the shoulders by prosecutor Gorcyca -- look for Kevorkian to quickly implement Phase Three, "unfettered experimentation on human death."

In Prescription: Medicide, Kevorkian explicitly described his future plans. "Knowledge about the essence of human death," he wrote, "will of necessity require insight into the nature of the unique awareness . . . that characterizes cognitive human life. That is possible only through . . . research on living human bodies, and most likely by concentrating on the central nervous system." There is no reason to believe Kevorkian won't act on his desire to cut up people while they are still alive, just as he has acted on the first two phases of his campaign, which he also wrote about explicitly and in detail long before actually putting theory into practice.

Jack Kevorkian is a quack, a ghoul, and a fiend. He is a quack because, though once trained as a pathologist, he has no training or expertise in diagnosing or treating depression, and he has not treated a living patient, at least not one who survived his "treatment," since his residency and military service in the 1950s. (His license to practice medicine was lifted in 1991.) Yet he purports to advise despairing sick and disabled people about their medical prognoses. He is a ghoul because he is obsessed utterly with death. Indeed, his "Dr. Death" moniker dates back to his medical-school days, when he would haunt hospital wards at night, staring into dying people's eyes. He is a fiend because his fondest dream is to slice open living people. He may also be the world's most clever serial killer, as one media observer once put it, since his victims come to him.

The ugliest truth in the Kevorkian story, though, is not about him but about us. In a decent and moral country, Kevorkian would long ago have been shunned as a pariah and jailed or forcibly confined to a mental institution. Instead, Jack Kevorkian has become the most unlikely folk hero in the United States. Earlier this year, he was feted at Time magazine's 75th-anniversary gala, where he was praised by attending celebrities like actor Tom Cruise, who rushed up to shake his hand. Andy Rooney interviewed him on 60 Minutes and proclaimed him a "courageous pioneer." Larry King and Charles Grodin are admirers. Geoffrey Feiger, his longtime lawyer and confidant, has a good chance of becoming the Democratic nominee for governor of Michigan.

The ultimate horror of Jack Kevorkian lies not in the hollowed-out body of his latest victim, but in the hollowness he has exposed in the society that tolerates -- and even celebrates -- his increasingly gruesome killing spree.

Wesley J. Smith, an attorney for the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, is the author of Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope From Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder (Times Books).