Human Exceptionalism

“Dr. Death Rides Again”

As promised, here is the Weekly Standard article I co-authored with Rita Marker, which points up the similarities between Jack Kevorkian’s illegal assisted suicide campaign and the legal assisted suicide regimen currently regent in Oregon. Here are a few excerpts:

In 1990, when Kevorkian began conducting post-mortem press conferences, he assured the nation his “patients” had to be terminally ill, and his attorney maintained that Kevorkian required proof of a terminal condition…Because assisted suicide is illegal in Michigan, however, authorities couldn’t take Kevorkian’s word for it, and had autopsies performed revealing that more than half of Kevorkian’s 130 known victims were not terminally ill. Most were disabled with conditions such as multiple sclerosis. In fact, several had no serious physical illnesses that could be determined upon autopsy.

Under Oregon’s assisted-suicide law, to qualify for assisted suicide, a patient is supposed to have a terminal condition, defined as a life expectancy of six months or less…And how many of those who died actually had a terminal condition? Nobody knows. Oregon does not require autopsies of people who die there by legalized assisted suicide, so we don’t know their actual underlying conditions.

Yet the words of one Oregon physician who regularly assists suicides indicate a cavalier attitude towards the law. Dr. Peter Rasmussen, an advisory board member of the Oregon chapter of Compassion & Choices, acknowledges his involvement in deaths numbering in the double digits. He said that predicting life expectancy is rife with inaccuracy but dismissed that as unimportant. He explained, “W]e can easily be 100 percent off, but I do not think that is a problem. If we say a patient has six months to live and we are off by 100 percent and it is really three months or even twelve months, I do not think the patient is harmed in any way.”…

Kevorkian also raised eyebrows in some quarters for having extremely brief relationships with his “patients” before helping them commit suicides. For example, Good Morning America noted that many of the people over whose deaths Kevorkian presided died within 24 hours of meeting him for the first Similar all-but-nonexistent doctor-patient relationships have been reported in Oregon. Although a patient’s requests for assisted suicide purportedly must span a 15-day period, official Oregon reports indicate that, over the last seven years, some patients have died by suicide having known their assisting doctors for a week or less…

[W]hat about Kevorkian’s lack of medical experience in examining and treating patients? Kevorkian was a pathologist who did not treat patients after his medical school and residency days in the 1950s… Kevorkian would have been within his rights under the law to act as an “attending physician” who could legally carry out assisted suicide. You see, in Oregon, any licensed physician–including any dermatologist, ophthalmologist, or pathologist–can write lethal prescriptions. It doesn’t really take a lot of medical savvy to prescribe a deadly dose. To paraphrase the Geico commercial, “It’s so easy even an unemployed pathologist can do it.”

I will have more on Kevorkian soon. In the next installment, we will explore his ultimate goal in pursuing his nearly decade-long assisted suicide campaign. Hint: It had very little to do with compassion.

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