Thursday, April 22, 2010

HBO Airs Kevorkian Movie on Saturday.

And the media is abuzz with news about the movie. Here are some clips:

From conservative Human Events:

It’s not hard to guess where the folks behind the new biopic of Dr. Jack Kevorkian stand on the topic of physician-assisted suicide

HBO’s “You Don’t Know Jack,” debuting at 9 p.m. EST April 24 on HBO, recalls the later years of the man known by many as Dr. Death.

The network’s original content routinely leans left, sometimes only by a matter of degrees (“The Trials of Ted Haggard“), other times without check (“Recount”).

So expecting a fair and balanced debate on assisted suicides from the critically hailed cable channel seems unwise.

You Don't Know Jack isn't a "news story" on Fox. It's a movie. I don't think fair and balanced was one of the mandates. But clearly, because the movie purports to make Kevorkian a human being, opponents are claiming -- and they may be right, I haven't seen it yet -- that assisted suicide is made warm and fuzzy. Well, so is unwanted pregnancy, poverty, working 80 hours a week, dying in war or dying in a hospital in pain....

Final Exit Network, in a press release about the movie, gets one thing right:

Advances made in medicine over the last 50 years have been astonishing. Thanks to sophisticated new technologies and treatments, diseases once considered death sentences are now manageable conditions. The progress is often, however, a mixed blessing. Doctors' once-revered vow to keep patients alive - no matter what - often results not in extending life but extending death. Perpetuating "life" in a nightmare of powerlessness, constant pain, social isolation, and mental deterioration is tantamount to torture.

This is what the Kevorkian movie should have us talking about. And why it is so easy to paint Kevorkian as either a saint or a killer because he chose to address these issues.

From the Star Phoenix:

When he was writing the screenplay for the HBO biographical TV movie You Don't Know Jack -- about the right-to-die activist who famously, and infamously, championed the right of terminal patients to die by physician-assisted suicide -- Mazer says the last thing he wanted to do was fall into the old TV trap of cliches.

Mazer wrote his screenplay long before he learned Al Pacino would be cast to play the Michigan pathologist who would earn the nickname "Dr. Death."

Kevorkian famously served eight years in prison for second-degree murder after video of him administering a lethal injection was shown during a 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace in November 1998.

"We didn't set out to do a movie about assisted suicide," Mazer explained. "It is a movie about Jack Kevorkian." And Jack Kevorkian is a much more complicated person than the public picture suggests, Mazer said.

Avoiding the trap of cliches. And finding out more about Kevorkian.

If I get a chance to watch the HBO premier on Saturday I'll come back with my own review.

Labels: , ,

Canada Votes Down C-384; It's a Good Story.

After months of discussion -- or rather exaggeration, noise, name-calling and fear mongering -- Canada finally voted down C-384 in a vote that wasn't even close; the bill would have made aid in dying legal there. Here's a clip from CBC:

The House of Commons has rejected a Bloc Québécois MP’s legislation to permit assisted suicide in Canada under strict conditions.

Bill C-384 was defeated Wednesday afternoon on second reading by a 228-59 margin.

The bill would have allowed doctors to avoid murder and manslaughter charges for helping terminally ill people or those in severe chronic pain to die.

Francine Lalonde, an east Montreal member of Parliament, introduced the measure. It was supported by most of her caucus and a sprinkling of MPs from the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP, because party leaders allowed a free vote.

The bill stipulated that a physician could help someone to "die with dignity" provided nine conditions were met, including that the person was 18 or older, suffered from a terminal illness or unrelenting physical or mental pain, had made two written requests to die at least 10 days apart, and had their diagnosis confirmed by a second doctor.

Lalonde — who has faced death during recent struggles with cancer — said it's time to allow terminally ill people in intolerable pain to die gently in a manner of their own choosing.

But MPs were concerned it would take the country down a "slippery slope" in which severely disabled or dying people could be euthanized without their consent.

Junior cabinet minister Steven Fletcher, who has quadriplegia, abstained even though he supports the principle of allowing individuals to choose to die with dignity

He said Lalonde's bill was "flawed," arguing it could relieve the pressure on society to provide the level of social and health support required to make severely injured or ill patients want to live.

I can understand the strong reaction, both here in the US and in Canada (and elsewhere around the world where aid in dying is discussed), simply because
how it is discussed is often full of fact-less speculation. Oregon has taught us that end of life care improves when aid in dying is legalized and the population goes through a rigorous debate on end of life care. We've also learned that fears of coercion and abuse are unfounded. But when the issue is framed as the government killing people -- without an understanding of how lives end now, in this decade, in the path of aggressive and futile care -- aid in dying (or euthanasia or assisted suicide) sounds scary.

This may seem unrelated and tangential, but I heard a bit of an interview with Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions yesterday on NPR. Melissa Block was asking the republican what the meeting with Obama that morning on selecting a new Supreme Court justice had been like and what he, as ranking minority member of the Judiciary committee, would find acceptable in a candidate. Sessions said:

I would like to see a nominee who is committed to faithfully following the Constitution as it is written and that understands that they are not empowered to consult polling data or social conditions as they interpret the existing words of our constitution.

Of course I'll have more to say about (the impossible) literal interpretation of the Constitution over at my other home,, but in this instance my point is that we live in an era where facts, statistics, social conditions and life as people are living it have much less influence on discussions of policy, rights, freedoms, and services than they should. (See debate over abortion.) Chalk it up to compelling story-telling -- and opponents of aid in dying have a good story! -- but also to the movement away from intellectual, lengthy, detailed, fact-based discourse in our public square regarding policy issues, law and society. I can accept opposition to aid in dying, but only when it comes from a real place. That services for the dying will be eroded by it's legalization is unfounded.

Because the story of killing a dying patient is so compelling and frightening, it's easy to get away from the facts of how we die today. Particularly when the story is being told via a blasted email or a network news clip that lasts 30 seconds. Sessions and others make no excuse for wishing to adhere to an idea of law or what they call "tradition." Most of us who write about the health care system, futile care, and end of life circumstances understand that those ideas and that tradition are fabricated.

Labels: , , , , ,