When Jack Kevorkian came to the nation’s attention in the 1990s, reporters at first depicted him — correctly — as a macabre and megalomaniacal promoter of death. But he was remade into a popular icon, becoming a pet guest on 60 Minutes, treated to uncharacteristically softball interviews by Mike Wallace and fawned over by Andy Rooney, and then declared by Time magazine to be one of the major “celebrities” of the 1990s. Time even invited him to their 75th anniversary gala as a star guest. You knew the world was spinning the wrong way when Tom Cruise rushed up to shake his hand.
Now, more than ten years later, Kevorkian is out of the pen and having a ball after serving time for the second-degree murder of Thomas Youk. It is important to understand why he was convicted: Youk had Lou Gehrig’s disease and Kevorkian lethally injected him—and videotaped the deed for posterity. The body was barely cold before he took the tape to euthanasia advocate Mike Wallace at 60 Minutes, who readily hosted a nationwide viewing. That forced the prosecutor to bring charges. Why did Kevorkian take such a risk when he had a clear path to assist all the suicides he wanted? Because assisted suicide alone couldn’t help Kevorkian reach his ultimate goal.
Kevorkian announced his actual purpose unequivocally in his 1991 book, Prescription: Medicide. It was definitely not the relief of suffering, which he called a “first step, an early distasteful professional obligation,” stating, “What 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, in a word, obitiatry.” In other words, Kevorkian wanted to engage in human vivisection. On page 243, he identified the experiments he wished to perform:
If we are ever to penetrate the mystery of death—even superficially—it will have to be through obitiatry. Research using cultured cells and tissues and live animals may yield objective biological data, and eventually perhaps even some clues about the essence of mere vitality or existence. But knowledge about the essence of human death will of necessity require insight into the nature of the unique awareness or consciousness that characterizes cognitive human life. That is only possible through obitiatric research on living human bodies, and most likely concentrating on the central nervous system.
This clearly disturbed man was just called “extraordinary” at the Golden Globes.
Before the next round of accolades, here are a few more facts about Kevorkian that have been as surely airbrushed from history as Trotsky was by Stalin (detailed more fully in my NRO piece “Dr. Death Returns,”):
- Before beginning his assisted suicide campaign, Kevorkian sought permission to experiment on prisoners as part of the execution process. He only turned to the ill and disabled when he had been thwarted from using the criminal justice system to satisfy his macabre obsessions.
- About 70 percent of Kevorkian’s assisted suicides were not terminally ill. Most were depressed people with disabilities. Five weren’t even sick upon autopsy.
- He is a eugenics believer, stating in a court document, “The voluntary self-elimination of individual mortally diseased and crippled lives taken collectively can only enhance the preservation of public health and welfare.”
- He ripped out the kidneys of one of his assisted suicide victims and offered them at a press conference, “first come first served.” The “surgery” was so crude that the Oakland County Medical Examiner called it out of a “slaughterhouse” and a “bizarre mutilation.” The media barely reported the story and it is now long forgotten.
That a disturbed man like Jack Kevorkian can be so touted, so remade, indicates how profoundly lost we are in the fog of relativism. At this point, we must face the truth: The real problem isn’t Kevorkian: It is us.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow in the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, and a legal consultant for the Patient’s Rights Council.