Kevorkian Goes Prime Time

by Rubel Shelly

Last Sundayís CBS News program "60 minutes" broadcast a video of Dr. Jack Kevorkian giving a lethal injection to a 52-year-old man. The terminally ill Michigan man had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and was given three injections on Sept. 17, 1998, that caused his death.

Reporter Mike Wallace asked Kevorkian, "You killed him?"

"I did," Kevorkian replied. "But it could be manslaughter, not murder. Itís not necessarily murder. But it doesnít bother me what you call it. I know what it is. This could never be a crime in any society which deems itself enlightened."

Dr. Kevorkian obviously considers himself "enlightened" and has admitting to helping more than 130 people end their lives. Yet he admitted this was the first time he had directly administered the fatal dosage.

One has to wonder about the journalistic ethics of CBS in airing the video. A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit took the network to task and said, "What I saw on my TV screen was a publicity-hungry, unlicensed pathologist killing a visibly troubled, vulnerable man . . . and making a spectacle of it on national TV."

The videotape was not unearthed by an investigative journalist. Kevorkian was happy to have it aired. It is part of his strategy to put himself above the law in order to strike down anti-euthanasia legislation. Largely in response to his earlier acts of assisting persons with suicide, the state lawmakers of Michigan passed a law that makes assisting a suicide a felony punishable by five years in jail or a $10,000 fine. That law took effect Sept.1, 1998.

Kevorkianís action is a direct challenge to that law. "Either charge me within a week," he dared the Oakland County prosecutor, "or I will resume my practice and resist with all my power any attempt to arrest or hinder me." He has said that if he is tried and convicted, he will starve himself to death in prison.

This prime-time act of murder will cause Kevorkian to be hailed as a champion for self-determination and personal freedom. In this upside-down world where darkness is put for light and evil for good, he will be viewed as a hero by a significant percentage of our American culture.

Percentages of acclamation donít determine right and wrong. They simply elevate certain people to positions of influence.

Question: If we establish physician-assisted suicide as a moral and legal right for terminally ill persons, will we not have moved considerably closer to establishing it as an obligation?

Question: If persons whose lives are difficult and whose care makes significant demands of time, money, and energy on others receive even an ambivalent (not to say enthusiastic) endorsement of the suicide option, will they be unreasonable to presume the people "bothered" by them are willing (if not eager!) to be rid of them?

Question: If physicians are allowed to become executioners, what will happen to the bond of trust that has been built and guarded with jealousy across the centuries?

The ultimate response we make to this critical challenge to law, morality, and human worth will be an index to the hope for our cultureís survival.

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