Remembering the Real Jack Kevorkian

Original Article

We should not speak ill of the dead, we are told. Whenever any of us shuffle off this mortal coil, as Shakespeare so evocatively put it, we should strive to remember the deceased as they might wish and pray that they find the same forgiveness and peace that we ourselves desire.

So, too, with Jack Kevorkian, who died June 3 of natural causes at the ripe age of 83. But not speaking ill does not mean avoiding the truth. Nor does recounting facts constitute a casting of aspersion. Moreover, Kevorkian was a proud atheist who frequently stated — and acted on — his intention to force society to tack into the wind of his own dark desires.

Kevorkian’s real purposes in mounting his assisted-suicide campaign were rarely highlighted by a media that much preferred to create the myth of “Jack the Compassionate.” This airbrushing of history accelerated after Kevorkian was released after serving nearly 10 years in prison for the murder of Thomas Youk — a person with Lou Gehrig’s disease who Kevorkian admitted killing with a lethal injection, even videotaping the event for airing on 60 Minutes.

Indeed, if one knew nothing about Kevorkian in recent years except what the media reported, one would have thought that Kevorkian was no more dangerous than an eccentric Muppet. He was even played by Al Pacino in a hagiographic HBO biopic.

With Kevorkian’s death, it is important to stop that revisionism before it advances any further. Doing so is in keeping with the pride Kevorkian took in the shock he created by stating his views bluntly. And that is precisely what I propose to do; allow Kevorkian to speak for himself, unvarnished and without compromise. (All quotes below are from Kevorkian’s book Prescription Medicide.)

Kevorkian believed in death on demand.

Kevorkian created categories he believed should qualify people for voluntary euthanasia. These included, but were not limited to:

“Obligatory assisted suicide,” those who have no choice about whether to die, such as condemned prisoners;

“Optional assisted suicide,” which Kevorkian described as “those individuals, sometimes in good physical and mental health who choose to be killed by another as the preferable of … two almost equally unpleasant alternatives;

“Obligatory suicide,” a category comprised of “those irrevocably condemned to kill themselves,” such as “the one thousand fanatic adherents of the Jim Jones religious cult in Guyana in 1978”; and,
“Optional suicide,” defined as “persons who are in no way afflicted by illness but who have arbitrarily and irrevocably decided that they must die.”

In other words, Kevorkian believed that anyone with a sustained desire to die should have access to assisted suicide or lethal injection — and even some people who did not, because he believed in “suicide by proxy,” e.g., the killing of infants or minors at the request of an authorized surrogate decision-maker.

Kevorkian wanted to establish euthanasia clinics that would also harvest organs and conduct experiments.

He advocated establishing suicide clinics that “make the quantum leap of supplementing merciful killing with the enormously positive benefit of experimentation and organ donation.”

Kevorkian assisted suicides to gain the right to engage in human vivisection.

Kevorkian was explicit about his ultimate goal, a license to experiment on people he was euthanizing, writing:

I feel it is only decent and fair to explain my ultimate aim. … It is not simply to help suffering or doomed persons kill themselves — that is merely the first step, an early distasteful professional obligation (now called medicide) that nobody in his or her right mind would savor. … 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.

Kevorkian never recanted these views. To the contrary: He methodically pursued his ghoulish purposes step-by-step for eight years; first, gaining a quasi-license to assist suicides after several juries refused to convict him; then, taking the kidneys from the body of one of his cases and offering them for transplant; to actively lethally injecting Youk. (Euthanasia being necessary for experimentation, since the “subject” would have to be anesthetized.)

It ended there — with prison. But one shudders to think what would have happened if that last jury, like the several before it, had decided to let Kevorkian continue being Kevorkian.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, an attorney for the Patients Rights Council, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.