One of the most widely criticized and celebrated thinkers of his time, Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian left his mark on the world through his advocacy for the humane treatment of terminally ill patients. Kevorkian famously assisted 130 of his own patients with terminal illness in what he referred to as “physician-assisted suicide.” He believed that “dying is not a crime” and that individuals should be allowed to determine their fate if they are suffering.
Kevorkian was convicted of second degree murder in 1999. His parole stipulated that he may not offer advice of suicide to any other person. He was tried four times for his practices. The wide spread media coverage led to a massive amount of support and followers of Dr. Death. Euthanasia gained legitimacy as a form of dignified dying. Kevorkian said, “My aim in helping the patient was not to cause death. My aim was to end suffering. It’s got to be decriminalized.”
Euthanasia directly violates doctrines of both Catholic and Buddhist faith. They believe that the process of life is one that should be left in the hands of a greater being. Followers of these religions and especially priests and monks were among the main critics of Dr. Kevorkian.
In 1998, 60 Minutes recorded the physician-assisted suicide of Thomas Youk. Youk was in the final stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also called motor neuron disease). Youk was given a fully informed disclosure and his family championed the actions as “incredibly humane.”
Often accused of playing God, Kevorkian once told Anderson Cooper, “Anytime a doctor interferes with a natural process of life they are playing God.” He truly believed that whether it be an extension, alteration, or termination of life, that all doctors played God with their patients constantly.
Due to his widespread media coverage and openness about his controversial beliefs, a three states have legalized physician-assisted suicide as an end-of-life option for patients who are truly suffering – Washington, Montana, and Oregon. It is vital to make sure the patient is examined by a psychiatrist and makes the decision in a lucid state.
Jack Kevorkian died in June 2011. He remains controversial for his different ideas about death and dying, and his work continues to bring attention to the way we view terminal illness and suffering.