I do know Jack 

The most surprising thing about the imprisonment of Jack Kevorkian is how quickly he’s been almost forgotten. Two weeks ago, a dear friend, one of his last die-hard supporters, called me with a voice filled with urgency and excitement.

What, she wanted to know, did I think of her scheme to get him sprung? Her idea was to start a campaign on the Internet to get people to write to Gov. John Engler and plead for mercy. Stifling the urge to tell her they’d have a better chance writing to the late Yuri Andropov instead, I told her gently this was a nonstarter.

Sad to say, Kevo will stay where he is, most likely until he dies, unless he lives into his 80s, the political climate changes, and he gets parole or his sentence commuted in return for a binding promise not to do it anymore.

And unfortunately, prison is where he should be. Not the maximum-security pen near Manistee where he was in virtual solitary until last week. Even his new medium-security prison in the YouPee is too harsh. He ought to be in a camp for old people.

Kevorkian’s sentence, 10 to 25 years, was harsher than it should have been. Want a standard of comparison? Watch what they give Jonathan Schmitz, convicted yet again for the brutal slaying of a gay man. That should indicate the politics behind Kevorkian’s punishment for performing euthanasia on a dying man who wanted to die.

Yet Kevo does belong in prison; he certainly worked hard to get there. I have been publicly attacked as a supporter of his and an apologist for him, and you may think I have changed my position. I have not. I support, always have, what seemed to be his original cause. For society to deny mentally competent adults the right to consult with their doctors and determine when enough is enough is barbaric.

Though Geoffrey Fieger’s courtroom brilliance was a large factor in the assisted suicide trials Kevorkian won, the fact is this was possible because large majorities of the public agree, right-wing religious nuts notwithstanding.

What is truly staggering is that – at least for himself – Kevorkian beat the legal system. He had won the ability to perform his peculiar services essentially unmolested. He did scores of assisted suicides, without a move to stop him, after the comic farce in Ionia.

The nation had undergone a sea change on planned death, and had he merely kept on, it would have become easier for mainstream doctors to push the envelope. But the world’s best-known ex-pathologist has a self-destructive streak. His behavior grew more reckless. Some of his patients seemed clearly not competent or not very ill.

Yet the authorities ignored him still. So, like a toddler screaming for attention, Dr. Death had to up the ante, violating his own principles in the process. Nobody remembers this now, but here is what Jack the Dripper wrote in his manifesto, Prescription Medicide:

"Heretofore the majority of Dutch doctors endorsed as ethical their involvement with active euthanasia … but the (suicide machine) now undeniably makes such conduct by doctors or anyone else, vulnerable to moral censure.

"To avoid it, all euthanasists in the Netherlands eventually, and the sooner the better, will have to stop practicing active euthanasia and instead merely help patients accomplish it themselves." That was what Jack Kevorkian thought in 1991.

But last year he more or less required Thomas Youk to submit to euthanasia.

Youk had sought only assisted suicide, and would have been perfectly capable of pushing a lever or pulling a string, but was persuaded otherwise.

That was the most damaging and most foolhardy thing the man who created the movement could have done. When that death was shown on "60 Minutes," many who had supported Kevorkian melted away, convinced at last that this now was about some strange and twisted need in him, and no longer merely to help the patients.

Now one can make an argument for euthanasia in a few cases, such as when the patient clearly would do it but is physically unable. Had Youk agreed to assisted suicide, and suddenly became unable to carry it out himself, the story might well be different.

The key to Kevorkian is that he is essentially an anarchist, who feels that doctors and other professionals should be governed only by codes set by their peers, though he seems unwilling to obey even those if he disagrees with them.

Yet even he ought to have realized society can’t grant anyone the right to kill anyone who agrees to let him do it and whom he decides ought to die.

What I worry is that this has set things back for those who really need this option, while prosecutors, snoops, and those who want to run our lives are now emboldened. Kevorkian was never the answer, a different attitude on the part of the doctors most of us deal with was. What I fear is that physicians who a year ago might have felt freer to quietly help those in need now again may be too frightened.

That would be the real tragedy.

Next week we’ll go house-hunting with Hillary in the Hamptons, and tell you who will win that election, so you won’t lose valuable inline skating time next year. Ta.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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