Friday, June 3, 2011

Assisted Suicide

The weather has turned dramatically hotter in the past week so that I have been delivering papers in shorts, a tee shirt and sandals, windows down much of the time. The air rushing through the car, the smells of the fields I pass, and the abundant wildlife scurrying about the land, singing in the trees, flying across my field of vision all combine to make my early morning job a pleasure.

Today, Dr. Jack Kevorkian died. For those unfamiliar with the man, he has led a personal crusade to attempt to change our society's views on euthanasia. It is said that he assisted in the deaths of over a hundred individuals, in many cases through the use of a "machine" of his own making that injected a deadly dose of drugs, controlled by the "patient". For his efforts, he was lauded as a visionary who so believed in the rights of individuals that he extended that belief to include the right to make the ultimate choice; how and when to die. And, for his efforts, he was labelled Dr. Death, arrested for murder more than once and finally convicted of second degree murder eventually serving eight years in prison until he was released on parole after promising not to offer his services to the dying again.

Death. Clearly, the concept scares us. Even Jack Kevorkian, in his final days admitted to be afraid to die. We have our beliefs that promise eternal happiness if we follow the doctrines of ones particular religion, but it is the rare person who, if honest, doesn't prefer living to dying. For all the trials and tribulations that we face during our lives, most of us would still rather face our problems, feel the pain and sorrow, and experience the bad with the good because the alternative is completely unknown, and it is the unknown that scares us. "Rage, rage against the dying of the light..." as Dylan Thomas most famously wrote.

And yet, there are rare times when death is preferable. When the physical, emotional or mental pain is so debilitating that we crave an end. We especially see this condition in those fighting the horrible manifestations of diseases such as cancer, ALS, AIDS, etc. When life has become an endless series of painful experiences, and the only relief comes from constant, heavy sedation, what is the point of continuing. Or when ones life partner of 30, 40, 50 years dies, taking your whole reason for living with them. Or when the voices in your head are so loud and so constant that the only respite is the induced calm of narcotics, or surgery. It is these situations that Dr. Kevorkian tried to address. It was those such afflicted that sought him out to appeal to his oath as a doctor and to his humanity.

Strangely, we do have a medical process to enable suicide. The DNR (do not resuscitate) document can function as a legal means to enable ones death while absolving the medical community from any claims of neglect. While we might rationalize that this is a passive kind of suicide, it is a suicide nevertheless when one considers the amazing medical breakthroughs that can extend a life.

In the end, regardless of whether you agree with his methods or not, Dr. Kevorkian put his life and reputation on the line for his beliefs. In a time when beliefs seem to change with the winds of public opinion, it is rare to find a man with such resolve. For now, one might say he dies as an infamous individual. I wonder what history will make of his life and work in 10, 20 or 30 years when more and more of us reach the time when merely being alive is not enough. When the only rage left in us is the rage to reach the light.


  1. I came across your blog in a random search, and I find your perspectives intriguing. Though I would not presently classify myself as "liberal," I can identify with the ideas of many who have historically labeled them as such, but I rarely find so many thoughts worthy of consideration from modern "liberals."
    It seems odd to me that one man should legislate his own idea of morality, removing another of his right to exist (or not exist, in the case of your article) in a manner that he finds pleasing. Perhaps, if we would all take a step back and allow each other the freedom to be who or what we choose, we might just find some peace.

    Thanks for the thoughts

  2. Anonymous,

    Thanks for the compliment. Perhaps "modern" liberals are either misunderstood, misquoted or merely mistaken in their perceptions of the world today. Feel free to comment anytime.


  3. I came across your blog today while doing research for my thesis. Excellent! I have been trying to show where Liberals and Conservatives (as this word is not always synonymous with raving religious holy rollers) have many issues that they do agree on.

    There are many factors that get in the way of seeing any common ground and for the sake of brevity, I will not elaborate. However, your blog was enlightening. As a former nurse and a Hospice nurse, I have been an advocate for assisted suicide for many years.

    As we all have the right to life and liberty, many have forgotten that in history that included the right to death and "individual rights".