I believe that America’s embrace of the ghoul Jack Kevorkian–that is not name-calling, see below–is a portentous symptom of cultural dissipation.
The current First Things contains a vivid article about one of K’s deaths–who was found to have no illness upon her autopsy–illuminating the real Kevorkian behind the myth.
Psychiatrist Kalman J. Kaplan was contacted by letter several times by Martha Wichorek–doomed to become K’s 70th customer–and had several phone calls with her. (These poor people were not in any real sense ”patients.” K was an unemployable pathologist with no experience after medical school in treating living people.)
The elderly woman wasn’t ill or disabled, but rather, terrified about a potential future “miserable life.” Despite initiating the contacts, she refused meetings and efforts by Kaplan to reach out. (I have met such people many times in my 21 years fighting assisted suicide. As sad as it sounds, I have found that for some, becoming dead gives their life purpose.)
After a brief hospitalization, Wichorek ceased all communication. Then, Kaplan read of her death in the newspaper. From, “The Death of Martha Wichorek:”
Her autopsy revealed that the late Martha Wichorek had no anatomical evidence of disease. Nor, it turned out, had she been in any pain, other than that connected with some mild age-related arthritis. People who knew her said that up to the end she had been very active, even participating in her church’s fall cleanup. She had raked leaves, helped in painting a basement, and seemed to be generally cheerful. Why, then, had she availed herself of the services of Dr. Kevorkian?
Wichorek was one of five Kevorkian customers found to have not been ill or disabled. This was a consistent pattern throughout K’s assisted suicide/euthanasia campaign. (The first was Marjorie Wantz who complained of pelvic pain, his second death.)
Kaplan lays out the truth about assisted suicide–as seen particularly in the Netherlands and Belgium, which have fallen farther down the cliff than us:
Martha’s case raises broader issues: the availability of assisted suicide to physically sound but depressed individuals; the “quick” solution of death for the elderly when they feel useless; thinking of death as a “right” rather than a fact; and too much social concern with the legal rather than the psychological condition of those contemplating suicide.
He concludes by casting light on Kevorkian’s true evil:
One thing more: Martha Wichorek saw her death as a heroic martyrdom for the cause of euthanasia. Kevorkian, as we know, not only encouraged this kind of thinking but served as its most sanctified prophet. He preached to the very first woman he assisted to her death that the world would thank her for her heroic gesture. Martha had been seeking to give some new kind of meaning to her life. Thanks to Jack Kevorkian and his minions, she succeeded in standing directly on its head the very thing she had hoped for.
Precisely what I have observed after discussing K deaths with their relatives. I also experienced the same horrid phenomenon in the suicide of my friend Frances, prematurely dead under the influence of the Hemlock Society, which gave her moral permission to kill herself and taught her how to do it. (I described her death in “The Whispers of Strangers” for Newsweek, my first of–so far–hundreds of anti-euthanasia columns. Frances’ suicide changed my life, causing me to move away from my fulfilling work with Ralph Nader to fight assisted suicide.)
In the end, Kevorkian and Hemlock–now, Compassion and Choices–didn’t deliver meaning, but the end of meaning.
I promised at the top of this already too lengthy post to explain my continuing loathing of Kevorkian. Here’s cold the truth: Kevorkian didn’t care about the people he helped kill. They were merely means to a ghoulish end–obtaining a license for K to vivisect people he was euthanizing.
It’s right there in Kevorkian’s book, Prescription Medicide on page 214:
I feel it is only decent and fair to explain my ultimate aim . . . It is not simply to help suffering or doomed persons to kill themselves” that is merely the first step, an early distasteful professional obligation (now called medicide) . . . 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.
What experiment? On page 34, he expressed an intense desire to “study all parts of the intact, living brain.” Toward what end? On page 243, he explained, “If we are ever to penetrate the mystery of death, even superficially, it will have to be through obitiatry.”
Please reread the above quotes and see how–if–it affects you. It scares me that many will just shrug.
By the time he was released from prison for murdering ALS patient Thomas Youk, Kevorkian was again on top of the world. Rather than being repulsed by his death-obsession and cold utilitarian mindset, the retired obitiatrist was extolled widely in the media as a quirky fighter for compassion and transformed by Hollywood from the cold-blooded exploiter of despairing people, that he really was, into a harmless Muppet figure. He was even played by A-Lister Al Pacino in an HBO movie that the moral ciphers of Show Business buried with awards.
Kevorkian, like all good sociopaths, knew what moves people. In this sense, Kevorkian is a mirror. What do you see in the reflection?