Dr. K's bad idea

Apr 2, 2008 at 12:00 am

Fourteen years or so ago, Jack Kevorkian called me to ask a question. Someone had told him you could collect signatures and get an amendment put on the ballot to change the Michigan Constitution.

Yes, I told him. That was absolutely true. "Well, how many do you need?" he asked. I looked it up; back then it was only about 260,000.

"Is that all? Why, we can get that many in no time," he said excitedly. "I could get that many by myself." Later, he checked in again. He had never voted. Was that a problem? Well, you need to register, I said. How do you do that, he asked?

Eventually, he got himself registered, and Kevorkian and his supporters — he then had quite a few of them —went to work.

But they never got anything close to the number of signatures they needed; insiders told me that when their time expired, they had less than half that. All this came back to me last week, when naive media types reported that the mostly forgotten apostle of self-snuffitude was running for Congress. Even the hint of having Dr. Death in the House was enough to fire up the stand-ups:

Yes, indeed. He'll sure know how to kill a bill. We can't wait till we see the details on his health plan. I can't wait to see how he cuts off debate, etc., etc.

But in reality, you could almost bet the farm that he will not only fail to get elected, he won't even get on the ballot. Kevorkian, who lives in Royal Oak, just barely inside U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg's district, plans to try to get listed as an independent. That has some Democrats worried.

They plan to spend more than a million dollars trying to boost former lottery commissioner Gary Peters' campaign to oust Old Joe. They fear that any stray votes for the man who made carbon-monoxide famous would be votes that otherwise would have gone to their side. Not to worry.

For the odds are heavily against Kevorkian ever getting on the ballot at all. True, this time he only needs 3,000 valid signatures. But do you know how much work it would be to collect them? Kevorkian no longer drives; nor does he have a wide circle of friends. He could, I am sure, stand outside the Royal Oak post office with a clipboard. Working alone, he would have to get a hundred valid signatures every day for a month. And they wouldn't all be valid; some people might sign twice. Many people don't even know what congressional district they live in. Practically speaking, he would have to turn in 4,000 or more by July.

Even if he does, you can bet his enemies will go over his lists with a fine-tooth comb. My guess is that he will think better of the whole project, or at least get bored with it, long before then. Frankly, Jack Kevorkian has no business whatsoever running for Congress. He has no money to get his message out, and doesn't have much of a message to begin with. This time, he isn't all that concerned with assisted suicide, but his latest obsession: the Ninth Amendment.

One of the less-well-known parts of the Bill of Rights, the Ninth Amendment says simply, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

His theory is that this means you can do pretty much whatever the heck you want to, if the Constitution of the United States doesn't specifically say you can't. For him, that means, he told reporters last week, you have the right to assisted suicide or the right to drive without a seat belt (two concepts that, on icy roads, could well amount to the same thing).

Most experts don't agree with Kevorkian. Robert Sedler, a constitutional law professor at Wayne State University, once told me that the Ninth Amendment "is sort of like hamburger helper. You usually have to use it along with something else to try and make a case."

Kevorkian, in fact, wrote a long letter setting forth his Ninth Amendment theory to the then-chief justice of the United States, William Rehnquist, back when Kevorkian was still in prison and Rehnquist was still above ground. The chief didn't even respond.

That doesn't mean that Kevorkian doesn't have an interesting argument. He was right in principle about assisted suicide. In fact, whatever you think of his acts and his antics, Jack Kevorkian did us all a big favor. He forced modern medicine to start thinking seriously about end-of-life issues, and to do far more for their patients' comfort and pain management than they used to.

Probably a solid majority would agree with Jack Kevorkian that intelligent, rational people for whom there is no medical help should be allowed to say, "enough is enough," and seek a doctor's assistance in speeding their own end, and coming in for a "soft landing."

These are things that Dr. Jack Kevorkian knows a great deal about. He doesn't just talk the talk, either: He spent eight years in prison for helping a dying man get a peaceful death before Lou Gehrig's disease choked him helplessly on his own saliva.

Winning the same right for us all would be a great thing, whether we ever used that right or not. What I would like to see Kevorkian do now is, in his 80s, devote himself to the area where he has made a difference — and could continue to do so.

Running hopelessly for office will do neither Kevorkian nor his causes any good. Nor is he going to want to spend hours nominating kids to West Point or chasing down lost Social Security checks.

Kevo turns 80 on May 26. He should be speaking and writing and arguing in favor of personal freedom, and giving people the right to determine when stayin' alive isn't worth it. Running for office is not always the best way to get your message across ...

Just ask Al Gore.

Why Kwame just might survive: The other day I talked to a limo driver, a fortysomething guy who lives in Detroit. We chatted enthusiastically about the effect the Obama campaign was having on people, and then I asked what he thought about the mayor.

"He's just a man, you know? A young man," he shrugged. "He'll learn from it." For him, it was just about getting caught tomcattin'.

Yeah, I said, but what about the $9 million the city had to pay because of the coverup? "Oh, he's paying that back out of his defense fund," he said. (Not true, but a common misconception on the street.)

What about the cops who lost their jobs? "They got a lot of money out of it, didn't they?" he said. The prosecutor and the media have a whole lot yet to do in terms of educating the public.

Worth paying to see: Some of the best people I know are members of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights. Their annual dinner is Sunday night, and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., is the main speaker. He's a native Detroiter, and two years ago became the first Muslim to be elected to Congress. The dinner is Sunday night at the Fellowship Chapel Banquet Hall, 7707 W. Outer Dr., Detroit. For what it will cost ya, call 313-579-9071 or e-mail [email protected].

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]