Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Legacy of Jack Kevorkian.

Jack Lessenberry writes at Detroit's
MetroTimes about the upcoming movie based on the life of Jack Kevorkian, "You Don't Know Jack" and the legacy of Kevorkian's fight to legalize assisted suicide:

Well, I do know Jack. Did, anyway. I covered all the major trials; had behind-the-scenes access to write long pieces for Vanity Fair and Esquire, and saw and interviewed him hundreds of times between 1993 and 1999, when he finally went to the slam.

I have only seen him once since he got out in 2007. He told someone that he didn't want to talk to me anymore because I was "too objective." There are worse things to be accused of.

I have no idea how the movie will portray Kevorkian. Nobody has shown me a script, though I am told some actor, hopefully somebody much better looking than I am, is playing me. However, I do know what really went on. It took me awhile to figure out Jack Kevorkian, whose image was distorted both by the prosecutors and his brilliant, long-time lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger.

Lessenberry covers the "career" of Kevorkian and his rise to prominence, then his downfall and incarceration:

But he brought his whole house down, possibly because of what seems to be a self-destructive streak. He insisted on committing euthanasia, filming it, and rubbing the prosecutors' noses in it.

He said it was time to raise the stakes to a national debate on euthanasia. (With my help, he gave the tape to Mike Wallace, who showed it on 60 Minutes.) Privately, Kevo told me he hoped to be convicted and sent to jail. He felt the outraged reaction of his supporters would force the system to free him and allow euthanasia.

And he summarizes Kevorkian's contribution to medicine and what should be his lasting legacy:

However, he did have a major impact on medicine, though one he probably never intended. Most of all, the hospice movement started getting serious funding and attention. It seemed an attractive alternative to death inhaling carbon monoxide in a rusty van.

Two states also now permit doctors — in some circumstances — to prescribe medication that allows terminally ill patients to put themselves out of their misery. Generally speaking, medicine is less callous. When my father was dying in 1993, in his 80s, I had to make a scene to get him more pain medication the day before he died. Thirteen years later, when my mother died in much the same way, the same hospital kept her completely comfortable without being asked. Kevorkian had something to do with that. Perhaps it is for these things that he should be remembered.

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