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Dr. Death Gets Out of Jail

Will the media finally tell the truth about the ghoulish aspirations of Jack Kevorkian?

7:00 AM, Dec 14, 2006 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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JACK KEVORKIAN will soon be out of jail on parole: Let the media races begin.

Who will be the first to get the "exclusive" interview of Dr. Death? Will it be Katie Couric, hoping to score her first coup with the CBS Evening News? What about Oprah? She's the undisputed queen of television. The smart money should probably be on Barbara Walters. Not only could she offer Kevorkian an earnest interview on ABC's 20/20, but also a bonus appearance on the syndicated gab fest The View.

Whichever media king or queen scores the big get, the one thing we will almost certainly not see in the media's reporting will be the truth about Kevorkian's career as a suicide facilitator and euthanasia advocate. Nor will we be told much about the ultimate goal Kevorkian sought to achieve through his nearly 10-year, law-defying campaign of assisted suicide.

KEVORKIAN IS ALMOST ALWAYS DESCRIBED in the media as a retired doctor who helped terminally ill people commit suicide. The December 13, 2006 Associated Press report about Kevorkian's pending parole, by Kathy Barks Hoffman, is typical of the genre, describing him as America's most vocal "advocate of assisted suicide for the terminally ill."

But that isn't completely true: Kevorkian does not believe that assisted suicide should be narrowly applied to the dying. This fact is easily discernible from his remarks, his writings, and his actions.

For example, in 1992, writing in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, Kevorkian proposed establishing a series of euthanasia clinics, which he called "obitoria." These euthanasia clinics were to be staffed by physician-killers who would be legally permitted to terminate people who requested death. Kevorkian foresaw that the first "patients" would be the terminally and chronically ill. However, he looked forward in the article to the clinics eventually being of service to the existentially anguished, people he labeled "patients tortured by other than organic diseases."

He had gone even further a year earlier in his 1991 book Prescription Medicide, in which he urged the creation of a category of "optional assisted suicide" for people who want to die. Those qualifying for mercy killing under this category would include terminally ill people, as well as disabled people with "crippling deformities," those suffering from "intense anxiety or psychic torture," and those who seek suicide in pursuit of "religious or philosophical tenets or inflexible personal convictions."

Kevorkian showed a special interest in helping to kill disabled people. In an interview on the Charles Grodin Show, he labeled people with serious disabilities who were not in despair to be "certifiably pathological" and urged that assisted suicide be made available to the disabled as "a standard medical service."

This wasn't just talk. Kevorkian put his suicide machines to work terminating the lives of scores of disabled people. Indeed, about 70 percent of the nearly 130 people who died in Kevorkian's rusty van or other venues were not terminally ill. Most were disabled and depressed. At least five had no discernible illnesses whatsoever upon autopsy.

This has been the truth about Kevorkian from the very start. In 1991, Kevorkian's second victim, Marjorie Wantz, complained bitterly about unresolved pelvic pain. But she was an emotionally disturbed woman who had been in mental hospitals. Her autopsy showed no discernible pathology of any kind.

His third assisted suicide, Sherry Miller, who died alongside and shortly after Wantz, was disabled with multiple sclerosis. She also despaired because her husband had divorced her and she worried about burdening her parents with her care.

Kevorkian has been described as compassionate, but clearly cared little for the people who came to him for death. Here are just a few examples: In 1995, Esther Cohan, age 46, died a la Kevorkian. She had MS and had apparently received such poor care before traveling to Michigan for suicide that her sister told the press she was covered with bed sores. Kevorkian either never noticed or did not care.

Then there is the 1996 case of Rebecca Badger, age 39, who sought out Kevorkian's help in suicide because she believed she had MS. Her autopsy proved that she did not have the disease, and in fact, that she was not physically ill at all. Further investigations revealed that Badger was a recovering alcoholic who was suffering from depression and was addicted to pain pills.

Judith Curren, age 42, may have been a victim of spousal abuse. A woman who reportedly abused prescription drugs, Curren had reported her husband to the police for violently abusing her--shortly before he flew her to Kevorkian for death in 1996. She had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, but her autopsy detected no illnesses.

Kevorkian suggested in Prescription Medicide that assisted suicide should include the option of organ harvesting. In 1998, he decided to act on this desire. Oakland County (Michigan) medical examiner L. J. Dragovic reported that the body of Joseph Tushkowski, who had quadriplegia, underwent "a bizarre mutilation" after his apparent homicide. According to the autopsy findings, after Tushkowski died by lethal injection, the mutilator crudely ripped out the dead man's kidneys. In a macabre scene the medical examiner called out of a "slaughterhouse," the perpetrator simply lifted up Tushkowski's sweater, did his dirty work, and tied off the blood vessels with twine.

The mutilator was Jack Kevorkian. He proudly admitted that he removed Tushkowski's organs at a news conference where he offered the organs for transplant, "First come, first served."

But even this outrage almost pales in comparison to Kevorkian's ultimate goal--human vivisection. Kevorkian was obsessed with death and, as described in Prescription Medicide--but rarely reported in the media--his ultimate aim was to gain license to conduct experiments on living people he was euthanizing to "penetrate the mystery of death." Thus Kevorkian wrote:

[K]nowledge about the essence of human death will of necessity require insight into the nature of the unique awareness or consciousness that characterizes cognitive human life. That is possible only through obitiatric research on living human bodies, and most likely concentrating on the central nervous system.

Toward this end, he had spent years attempting to convince condemned prisoners and the authorities to permit him to cut open those being executed. Only after that effort failed did he turn his focus to the sick, disabled, and depressed--in the hope that through assisting their deaths he would eventually be permitted to conduct this macabre and useless research.

As I once wrote in THE WEEKLY STANDARD ("The Serial Killer as Folk Hero"), "Jack Kevorkian is a quack, a ghoul, and a fiend." He is a quack because, though trained as a pathologist, he had no training or expertise in diagnosing or treating depression, nor had he treated a living patient after his residency and military service in the 1950s. He is a ghoul because he is obsessed with death. He is a fiend because of what he did to Joseph Tushkowski and because he was motivated in all he did by his dream of slicing open living people.

Unfortunately, this ugly truth will probably be lost in the stampede to talk and write about Kevorkian after his release from prison. Instead, we will hear of Jack the Martyred Saint, a man punished simply because he wanted to alleviate the suffering of "the terminally ill."

But that's never been Kevorkian's purpose, and he's never tried to hide it.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His website is wesleyjsmith.com.