Jack Kevorkian has been released from jail on parole, and the media frenzy has already begun. Bear-hugged at the jailhouse door by euthanasia proponent Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, who then turned his interview with Kevorkian into a commercial for legalized euthanasia, Dr. Death is being treated by most media as the compassionate, if eccentric, retired doctor jailed unjustly merely for helping put desperate, terminally ill people out of their misery—even though most of those he helped kill were not dying. In fact, most were disabled, while several had no discernible illness upon autopsy.
In many ways, though, this is beside the point. Kevorkian pursued his notorious assisted-suicide campaign not for the purpose of compassion, but primarily to fulfill his own macabre obsessions. Utterly ignored by the mainstream media, Kevorkian’s true goal in assisting suicides was gaining license to engage in “obitiatry,” a term he coined to describe anesthetizing people, experimenting upon them, and then finishing them off with a lethal injection. Thus, Kevorkian admitted on page 214 of his 1991 book Prescription Medicide:
I feel it is only decent and fair to explain my ultimate aim…It is not simply to help suffering and doomed persons kill themselves… [W]hat I find most satisfying is the prospect of making possible the performance of invaluable experiments or other beneficial medical acts under conditions that this first unpleasant step can help establish.
It isn’t as if this is a big secret that the media couldn’t uncover. Kevorkian began advocating unethical human experimentation on condemned prisoners in 1959. Thus, he wrote in a legal journal:
I propose that a prisoner condemned to death by due process of law be allowed to submit, by his own free choice, to medical experimentation under complete anesthesia (at the time appointed for administering the penalty) as a form of execution in lieu of conventional methods.
In the 1980s, Kevorkian added another twist, tying execution to organ harvesting in medical journal articles. He soon included the sick, disabled, and depressed as subjects of this starkly utilitarian goal—proposing the establishment of regional euthanasia clinics for mercy killing and obitiatry. Kevorkian took a step toward these goals in one of his latter assisted suicides when he removed the kidneys from the body of quadriplegic Joseph Tushkowski and offered them at a press conference for transplantation, “first come, first served.”
The media’s failure to inform the public about these and other truths about Jack Kevorkian speaks volumes about the quality of today’s media. When facts get in the way of the story that the media want to tell—in this case, of Jack the Martyr—they are often simply ignored. Unfortunately, this journalistic malpractice means that we are not pondering the interesting aspects of Kevorkian’s saga: How a clearly twisted personality driven to his assisted-suicide campaign by an obsession with human vivisection became, for a time, the most famous and popular doctor in the world.
Wesley J. Smith, CBC Special Consultant, Award Winning Author
- Jennifer Lahl, MA, BSN, RN, is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.