You know how pets can endear themselves to you. Over the years, we’ve grown to love Dusty, our pet chinchilla. But a couple of months ago we took him to the vet, and he was diagnosed as having an incurable infection. After a few weeks, it was clear that his bad days were outnumbering his good days, so we had him put to sleep. Many of you have had to have a family pet put to sleep. It’s almost a universal experience.
Some of you have been with loved ones who have suffered before they died. Maybe you’ve stood next to their bed and wondered, Is this the best thing, to let the suffering go on?
have enough compassion to relieve your pet of suffering and give it death with dignity, then wouldn’t you have that same compassion toward human beings by helping them kill themselves if that’s what they want?”
That, in short, is Dr. Kevorkian’s crusade. As a leading advocate of doctor-assisted suicide, also called “voluntary euthanasia,” he has presided over the deaths of thirty-eight people, four of them in the last week alone.
These people have not been on the verge of death when they came to him. In fact, a medical examiner performed autopsies on twenty-nine of Kevorkian’s patients and found that twenty-four of the twenty-nine were not terminally ill. In at least three cases, autopsies detected no physical illness whatsoever.
Police have arrested Kevorkian three times, but sympathetic juries have let him go each time. So who is this so-called Dr. Death?
Kevorkian is a pathologist, a doctor who deals with dead bodies and body parts, but he’s been stripped of his medical licenses. In fact, the California Attorney General’s office said, “He is fundamentally unfit to practice medicine.” Kevorkian promotes all kinds of unorthodox ideas—one is that we ought to auction off transplant organs to the highest bidder.
Kevorkian paints himself as acting purely out of compassion. Just look at one case involving a Michigan woman who asked him to help her commit suicide because she had painful rheumatoid arthritis. Two physicians who were experts on pain volunteered to alleviate her pain at no cost, because they said she had been using medication that was ineffective for that particular illness.
Kevorkian and his lawyer rebuffed them, called them publicity seekers; and Margaret Garish died from inhaling carbon monoxide from tanks supplied by Dr. Kevorkian. She’ll never know if her pain could have been relieved by less drastic measures.
In short, Dr. Kevorkian’s solution to suffering is to kill the sufferer. It reminds me of Vietnam where they said, “In order to save a village, we have to burn it down.” Yet, the public increasingly endorses the basic philosophy that Kevorkian is espousing.
Three out of four Americans believe doctors should be legally allowed to fulfill a patient’s wish to die. In one survey, one in five critical care nurses said that they have already caused or hastened a patient’s death.
Oregon recently became the first state to actually pass a law legalizing assisted suicide, although it’s not implemented yet. And the nation’s second highest court has declared that there is a constitutional right to have help in killing ourselves. Meanwhile, as recently as last Friday the American Medical Association reaffirmed its long-standing opposition to doctor-assisted suicide.
This is a particularly relevant topic because elderly people in America have increased five-fold since 1950. Many of us are going to be facing life-and-death questions involving our grandparents, our parents, our spouse, or ourselves.
When is it okay to pull the plug? Why not let someone die if their quality of life has diminished? Why not offer the relief of death to those who are in pain? When are we sustaining life and when are we merely postponing the inevitability of death?
Those are important questions, but how we answer them is going to depend on what our world view is like. Let’s look for a moment at what Dr. Kevorkian’s philosophy of life is all about.
His world view begins with the premise that there is no God. People are merely biological organisms just like any other life form. This explains why he would see little difference between putting a pet to sleep and helping a human being commit suicide. When asked how he decides what’s right and what’s wrong, Kevorkian says, “I know what’s right.”