Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Jack's in the Box

The people who get us talking about things aren't always those who you'd like to actually talk about those things with.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian was one of those people.

Kevorkian, "Doctor Death," was laid to rest the other day and no matter what you thought about him or his ideas, you're a liar if you say he didn't get you talking and thinking about assisted suicide.

But would you have liked to have lunch with Kevorkian and rap about it? Unlikely. Kevorkian had to be an assisted suicide physician. He just looked the part: a long, drawn face, boney body---he looked like a gothic character from an old book of nursery rhymes.

Kevorkian wasn't just a man's name, it was a word that became part of our lexicon, used by people in all fields to describe a variety of situations.

I remember the NBA coach Don Nelson commenting after his team beat the Pistons in Detroit. Nelson said it wasn't appropriate for Pistons fans to overreact to the loss, which came on opening night.

"This is no time to pull a Kevorkian," Nelson said.

"Call Kevorkian!" people would playfully and kiddingly tell their pals when something would go awry. Stand-up comedians had a field day with Doctor Death.

But it was all very serious, of course---Kevorkian's little machine and what it could do and why it was doing it.

I think Kevorkian had a good idea that he took in a wrong direction.


Dr. Kevorkian, dressed like Mr. Rogers, with his "death machine"


How dare any of us tell someone who is suffering from excruciating pain as a result of a terminal or otherwise debilitating illness, that they ought to keep living?

This is one of those issues, like capital punishment, that's easy to take an unfavorable view of, until it hits close to home.

You can be anti-capital punishment, but what happens when a loved one is killed by a scumbag?

You can preach pro-life to Kevorkian's "patients", until you see a spouse wither away, out of their mind with pain and with the quality of life of a gnat.

But Kevorkian went wrong when he began to openly mock those who dared question him, and even though he spoke of "dying with dignity," he began leaving bodies in vans in parking lots, like a serial killer.

Where's the dignity in that?

The other troubling thing about Kevorkian's mission was that it was highly questionable as to whether his goal was to save life or to fuel the decision to end it. In other words, were Kevorkian's assisted suicides always performed as a last resort, or did anyone with an inkling to end it all get strapped into the former pathologist's machine, no questions asked?

All told, Kevorkian supposedly assisted in about 130 deaths.

It's too bad that Kevorkian was the symbol for assisted suicide. I can't help but wonder if another doctor would have handled it differently. I wonder how different the assisted suicide movement would have looked had Kevorkian not taken it in such a defiant, creepy direction.

But Kevorkian got us talking, that's for sure. And that's rarely a bad thing.

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