Wednesday, May 30, 2007

He gave them a little more assistance than we remember

Posted By on 05.30.07 at 04:55 PM

It's how you ask the question. With the announcement that Michigan's "Dr. Death," Jack Kevorkian, will be released from prison on June 1 after eight years behind bars for second-degree murder, the AP asked the public what it thinks today about a right to die. With the proposition that "Sometimes there are circumstances where a patient should be allowed to die," 68 percent of the thousand adults polled agreed. But asked, "Do you think it should be legal or illegal for doctors to help terminally ill patients end their own life by giving them a prescription for fatal drugs?" a narrow plurality, 48 percent said legal, while 44 percent said illegal.

What about Kevorkian specifically? The AP asked, "Do you think [he] should have been jailed for assisting terminally ill people end their own life, or not?" Yes, 40 percent. No, 53 percent.

I promptly heard from Not Dead Yet, an organization of disability-rights advocates who believe euthanasia is a fancy way of saying "Let the freaks die." Spokesman Steve Drake, who was born hydrocephalic and says he's grateful to his parents for ignoring the doctor's warning that he'd live life as a vegetable, says Kevorkian wasn't assisting--he was in charge. Drake said, "Even assisted-suicide proponents take pains to insist on a difference between the two."

Secondly, the people Kevorkian was "assisting" weren't necessarily "terminally ill." Not Dead Yet dusted off a 1997 Detroit Free Press series, "The Suicide Machine." The paper said its investigation "debunks perceptions that Kevorkian only helps people who are terminally ill--likely to die within six months--or are in agonizing pain. In fact, at least 60 percent of Kevorkian's [47] suicide patients were not terminal. At least 17 could have lived indefinitely and, in 13 cases, the people had no complaints of pain." 

The paper reported that Kevorkian had "consistently violated most of the rules and standards he publicly claims to follow." 

Drake told me Not Dead Yet protested to the AP, and after getting nowhere there decided to issue a public statement. It was being written as we talked. Not Dead Yet intended to declare that bad questions lead to bad answers and, if anyone's paying attention, to bad public policy. 


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