The Morning Jolt


Pro-Lifers Warned of a Slippery Slope, and They’re Right


Making the click-through worthwhile: how the socially approved suicide of a traumatized 17-year-old girl in the Netherlands proves that anti-euthanasia forces were right when they warned about a slippery slope; Jussie Smollett needs to find new options; and a social-media company surprises us.

The Pro-Lifers Were Right All Along

Let’s go back — way back — to 1991. The people of the United States are just getting to know a controversial doctor named Jack Kevorkian. He has assisted in the suicide of a distraught woman named Janet Atkins, administering a series of drugs to her in a lethal combination in the back of a Volkswagen van. Atkins was a woman whose doctor told her there was a 90 percent chance she had Alzheimer’s disease, and in a video taped shortly before her death, she spoke in short, clipped sentences. But one of her doctors said she had “three or four” good years left, and she appeared to be in otherwise good physical health, still capable of playing tennis. She was 54 years old.

Kevorkian called the machine he created the “Thanatron” — it translates to “death machine.”

The state of Michigan argued that what Kevorkian had done was second-degree murder and, perhaps even more dangerously, represented  societal encouragement of suicide:

Lead prosecutor Michael Modelski cites David Letterman jokes to exemplify the dangerous but seductive appeal of the machine. Letterman has devoted two “Top Ten” lists to it and prosecutor Modelski’s got them both at hand. One day over the phone he reeled off for me Letterman’s “Top Ten Promotional Slogans for Dr. Kevorkian’s Suicide Machine.” Number five: Claus von Bülow says, “I liked it so much, I bought the company!” Number four: “While I’m killing myself I’m also cleaning my oven!”

But the one Modelski emphasizes to me is the one that, he says, illustrates the true danger of the Thanatron, Promotional Slogan Number Eight: “Isn’t it about time you took an honest look at your miserable, stinking life?”

Modelski believes that the machine, if widely available, would become all too tempting to those suffering transient depressions, encourage them to “take the easy way out.”

Chief defense attorney Fieger counters that it’s not the prosecutor’s role to impose his “paternalist morality” on the citizenry. Fieger has his own thoughts about why the machine “gets people crazy.” He thinks it’s because “it forces people to face their own mortality, stirs up questions, feelings they don’t necessarily want to face.” (Have you taken an honest look…?) “They start asking themselves, Would I ever consider using it?”

spiritually, [psychiatrist/historian Robert Jay] Lifton’s thesis in The Nazi Doctors is at the heart of the prosecution’s case against Dr. Kevorkian. Lifton argues that there was an inevitable progression from the “medicalization of killing” introduced by the Nazis’ involuntary-euthanasia campaign in the thirties to the mass murder in the camps in the forties. “At the heart of the Nazi enterprise,” Lifton states, in a quote that opens the prosecution’s final written argument in the Kevorkian case, “is the destruction of the boundary between healing and killing” (emphasis added).

Modelski believes that participation by a doctor in “killing” (even if it’s only assisting a voluntary suicide) is the first step in a dangerous continuum, a “slippery slope” leading from medically assisted suicide to medically encouraged suicide (of the poor and uninsured, say) to medically pressured suicide (of those whose lives are “not worth living” but expensive to sustain) to involuntary euthanasia—the same slippery slope that led in the thirties and forties to genocide. Modelski, a tall, saturnine fellow, is particularly passionate about this because, he tells me, his father’s father (who’d served in the Polish army) and one of his father’s brothers died at Auschwitz. And because the uncle who died was a twin, Modelski suspects he may have fallen victim to the kinds of medical experiments on twins that were pursued so obsessively by Dr. Mengele in the camps.

Anyone who looked past Jack Kevorkian’s statements and the mostly glowing media profiles would recognize he was an extremely unusual man to be a doctor, much less considered a hero by any corner of the population. In the 1950s, as a resident pathologist at the University of Michigan, he showed up unannounced at an Ohio death row penitentiary and proposed doing experiments on the death-row inmates. He boasted of “a unique privilege . . . to be able to experiment on a doomed human being.” He was asked to leave the university, and moved on to a hospital, where he experimented with removing blood from corpses and injecting it into live patients. Writing in a medical journal in 1986, Kevorkian “questioned whether psychiatrists should have the right to decide whether mentally ill patients were competent to choose suicide. He outlined a system of centers for death-on-demand, calling them “obitoria.” At obitoria, research could be carried out on any consenting adult.”

During the trial, Kevorkian called Adkins’ death “the first concrete step in a long-range plan that I have envisioned long ago . . . toward true enlightenment, in which we can develop a rational policy of planned death for the entire civilized world.” He argued the mental state of the patient was immaterial, and that no assessment of mental impairment could or should invalidate a desire for suicide. The Detroit Free Press investigated his practice and found 60 percent of those he assisted weren’t actually terminally ill. In several cases, autopsies revealed “no anatomical evidence of disease.” The paper found that in at least 19 cases, Kevorkian did not consult psychiatrists, even when dealing with patients diagnosed with depression.

“I don’t rely on mental problems,” Kevorkian testified. “I rely on their physical disease, which then affects the mind. Anybody who’s got a terrible crippling disease and is not depressed is abnormal.”

Kevorkian publicly claimed that he would only administer the lethal drugs after extensive consultation with the patient, but he regularly violated his own rule: “At least 19 patients died less than 24 hours after meeting Kevorkian for the first time.”

A certain segment of the population insisted upon seeing Kevorkian as a heroic crusader for the dignity of the dying . . . and not, say, just a guy who really liked killing people. From a certain point of view, Kevorkian looks less like an icon of mercy and more like a de facto serial killer who used a machine made up of parts accumulated at garage sales to prey on the frightened and vulnerable.

The possibility of being diagnosed with a terminal disease is terrifying, and few of us can know for certain how we would react to that nightmare scenario. No one wants to suffer or watch a loved one suffer. The Catholic Church teaches that “effective management of pain in all its forms is critical in the appropriate care of the dying” and that “we may reject life-prolonging procedures that are insufficiently beneficial or excessively burdensome.”  But to take deliberate action to end a life crosses a moral line, their philosophy is that “two extremes are [to be] avoided: on the one hand, an insistence on useless or burdensome technology even when a patient may legitimately wish to forgo it and, on the other hand, the withdrawal of technology with the intention of causing death.”

Maybe that philosophy strikes you as the right one; maybe you come down differently. But what is no longer disputable is that the “slippery slope” that Jack Kevorkian’s critics warned about was real and we have slid down it rapidly.

Why is all of this relevant to today? Because in the Netherlands, a 17-year-old girl who was raped as a child decided that her trauma was too difficult to live with, requested assisted suicide, and died at her home after refusing to eat. It was initially reported that the state granted and provided Noa Pothoven the assisted suicide she requested, but the new explanation is merely that she “died in her home” with no further details about who assisted her, if anyone.

Wait, it gets worse. Before her death, the teenage girl had written an autobiography and was a self-described “mental-illness warrior.”

Under Dutch law, children as young as 12 are permitted to seek euthanasia, but they need a parent’s consent until they’re 16. (A reminder that here in the United States, young men can’t rent a car until they’re 25 years old without an additional surcharge.)

Here we are, trying to prevent teen suicide, and reduce the teen-suicide rate, and a Western country has decreed that if teenagers decide that a traumatic experience makes their lives no longer worth living, they’ll provide the means and assistance.

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in seven states and the District of Columbia. In the smallest of mercies, all of the states require the patient to be at least 18 years old. There are various licensing requirements, and some states require that the patients make multiple oral requests. Several thousand Americans have died from deliberately ingesting, deliberately prescribed drugs designed to end their lives.

We lost the argument about Jack Kevorkian back in the 1990s. And Western societies will be paying the price for that for a long, long time . . . unless the case of Noa Pothoven spurs the Netherlands — and the rest of us — to rethink the path we’ve taken, and head in a different direction.

I Guess Jussie Smollett Will Have to Direct Himself in His Own Projects

Ed Morrissey notices Lee Daniels, co-creator of Empire, declaring definitively that Jussie Smollett will not be returning to the program. Apparently the cast members want him back, but the behind-the-scenes show staff don’t, and naturally, some jump to the conclusion that this must reflect racism. Ed notes:

Isn’t it more likely that the division is between Smollett’s colleagues and friends, and the people who aren’t his colleagues and friends? Racism isn’t a very good explanation in this case anyway.  The leadership of the Chicago police department is African-American, as seen in their angry press conference after the joke of a deal Smollett got from Kim Foxx. The two brothers who admitted to perpetrating the hoax with Smollett are also both African-Americans. Which should we believe in order for racism not to enter into the decision?

A Liberal Complained to a Social-Media Company, and You Won’t Believe What Happened

Something that a lot of conservatives thought never happened: A liberal (Carlos Maza) complained about a conservative (Steven Crowder) being hateful and offensive and harassing on social media (YouTube) and the social-media company responded . . . with the conclusion that “while we found language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don’t violate our policies.”

Will wonders never cease!

ADDENDUM: Joe Biden’s own curious way of marking the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square is to emphasize that the United States faces no real threat from China or other countries in the region.

We’re in a position where we have the most agile venture capitalists in the world. They know — I mean, it’s not like we’re the bad guys, we’re the best at doing it,” Biden said. “Our workers are literally three times as productive as workers in the far East, I mean — excuse me, in Asia. And they are three times productive. And so, what are we worried about?


The Latest