After participating in the assisted suicide of more than 130 people and being convicted in the 1998 second-degree murder of a 52-year-old man with Lou Gehrig's disease, Jack Kevorkian, 79, is scheduled to be paroled June 1.
Fans of Kevorkian ought to be asking themselves: In that the ailing Kevorkian is in worse physical shape than many of the people whose lives he helped snuff out, why hasn't the death doc used his vaunted "medicide" on himself?
Kevorkian's first victim, Janet Adkins, 54, had early Alzheimer's, but felt well enough to play tennis just days before her 1990 visit to Kevorkian's death mobile. Kevorkian explained that Adkins had "had a wonderful life, a good life, but the quality of her life was slipping away due to an incurable disease and she didn't want to suffer." It is an argument he would make again and again.
It's not as if Kevorkian is in tennis-playing shape. According to his lawyer, Kevorkian has suffered from high blood pressure, arthritis, hernias, hepatitis C, cataracts, heart and lung disease and vertigo. His mental state cannot be too sharp -- not when one of his appeals argued that he was represented by incompetent counsel -- himself.
Why, oh why, then should Kevorkian endure more suffering?
The thing is, Kevorkian never particularly cared about the suffering of the people he helped kill. He cared about killing.
Early in his career, Kevorkian dreamed up a plan to conduct invasive medical experiments on living beings. He focused on death-row inmates facing execution, as he argued that the best way to understand the "mechanisms of a criminal mind" was to study "all parts of the intact living brain." The world saw him for the twisted ghoul he was.
Only later did Kevorkian hit on assisted suicide for people who were ostensibly terminally ill. Many liked the idea of a doctor who would alleviate suffering for the sick and not inflict on unwilling patients more care than they wanted.
Supporters overlooked the fact that patients already have the right to refuse unwanted medical treatment. They failed to notice that Kevorkian didn't offer pain control. They looked the other way when newspapers reported that some so-called patients -- including a depressed mother of two young daughters -- did not suffer from the illnesses they cited as the reason they wanted to die. Supporters did not want to know if the retired pathologist was a quack.
Kevorkian's acolytes saw only what they wanted to see -- sick adults who faced death without flinching.
The portrait was so reassuring that supporters refused to question whether Kevorkian rushed treatable people to an early death. And they did not care if their catchphrase "death with dignity" sent the cold message to the disabled that their condition is undignified -- and that they should do the world a favor and die.
Note that while living with illnesses is undignified for others, for the frail Kevorkian, life is precious. In 1997, Kevorkian pledged to starve himself to death in prison if convicted of assisting suicide. Yet -- here's a miracle -- he is still alive.
In 2004, Kevorkian's attorney told the Oakland Press that the state of Michigan should release Kevorkian because Kevorkian was so ill that he didn't think the retired pathologist would live "more than a year." Now that soon-to-be free Kevorkian is being offered lecture fees as high as $50,000, his health has improved. Another miracle.
Kevorkian's first post-prison interview will be on "60 Minutes" -- which is fitting, because Kevorkian's videotaped killing of Thomas Youk, which aired on "60 Minutes," prompted the prosecution that earned Kevorkian a prison sentence. The prosecutor, who had not wanted to try Kevorkian, later said that he was astonished at the death doc's "total lack of compassion" and "nonchalant" demeanor when he killed Youk.
The Youk segment garnered the TV news show its highest ratings of that season.
Mike Wallace, 89 -- another assisted-suicide fan who looks less fit than Janet Adkins was -- will interview Kevorkian. Do not expect a hard-hitting exchange. Expect to watch two old white guys discuss the moral value in killing (SET ITAL) other (END ITAL) sick people. As if they are the compassionate ones.
(SET ITAL) Note to readers: My husband, Wesley J. Smith, is a consultant to the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. (END ITAL)