What you have not been told about Jack Kevorkian

Dec 16, 1998 at 12:00 am

Jack Kevorkian, as do some extremists in the militia movement, claims the right to violate the law because of the nobility of his aims. The public (and any jury that tries him) deserves to know what his aims are.

Kevorkian not only wants to "help" individuals reach the Great Beyond. He wants to force changes in our legal system. It is only fair to ask what our legal system will look like when he gets done with it.

Kevorkian has consistently and contemptuously opposed laws regulating assisted suicide. He wants the practice controlled by the medical establishment -- not the law. As quoted in this very newspaper ("In His Own Words" MT, Sept. 15-21, 1993), he calls on "organized medicine" to "lay out the rules" and wants it to have the authority to "change them every week." Kevorkian may attack "organized medicine," but it is in the spirit that Rudyard Kipling attacked the British government, for failing to realize its imperial destiny by grabbing power.

Kevorkian wants the medical establishment to regulate itself. This is equivalent to having industry set environmental regulations or having police brutality cases tried solely by juries of police officers. Can we really take this seriously?

During his recent appearance on CBS's "60 Minutes," Kevorkian demanded power not only to "help" someone else commit suicide, but to strike the death blow as well. Under such circumstances, how will we know the patients really wanted to die? Kevorkian's answer -- trust organized medicine.

Can we really trust doctors with such powers over life and death? Have we been able to trust doctors not to commit insurance fraud? Or to report their colleagues for obvious misconduct?

We cannot even trust doctors to be free of prejudice against their own patients. The American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a statement in December 1996 stating some doctors wanted to deny effective lifesaving treatment patients and their families wanted, because they felt the patients had a "not-worth-the-effort quality of life."

In short, forget the idea that "all men are created equal." Some patients have second- and third-class, grade B or C lives. (The exact view of Adolf Hitler.)

Forget too about freedom of choice. The doctors were ready to arbitrarily dismiss patient and family wishes.

How did the AMA want to deal with such medical bigots? Condemnation? Education? Psychological treatment? The AMA stated openly it wanted to "accommodate" their values. It recommended allowing health care institutions to deny lifesaving treatment against the patient's will, based on "subjective" views of a patient's "quality of life."

Under the AMA proposals, patients will be allowed to appeal to hospital boards, bureaucrats and ethical committees, or transfer to another institution. If transfer is impossible, the only option is to die quietly.

When such fanatics are given the power to actively kill -- as well as passively neglect -- their patients, will they be capable of giving patients lethal injections without a request? This is already being done in the Netherlands. Once given power to kill, doctors in the United States can easily cover up killing people against their will.

This current appetite for death may be partially motivated by economics -- pressures to cut medical costs by insurance companies, HMOs, managed care or profit-minded administrators.

There may be some psychological reasons too. Psychiatrist Alice Miller noted people project onto others qualities they fear in themselves. She notes children driven by parents to achieve often feel that without "superior qualities," they are "completely worthless" and "can never be loved." For some super achievers in the medical profession, influenced by a competitive society, individuals with handicaps (stereotyped by society as incapable) may trigger unconscious fears of personal weakness and be considered "better off dead."

Handicap phobia (like homophobia) may also be triggered by insecurities about sexual identity. Individuals with disabilities are often falsely stereotyped by society as being "less than a man" or losing "feminine" attractiveness. Because they are seen as being deprived of sexual roles, rather than rebelling against them, they do not face macho hostility on a conscious level (as do gays). Insecurity about them is disguised as "compassion" and the assumption they are "better off" dead.

Giving doctors power over life and death may not only threaten citizens with disabilities, but all vulnerable minorities. Books such as The Bell Curve and projects such as the federal Violence Initiative have attempted to convince the public that African Americans are biologically "disabled." Then there are the poor. A recent newsletter from the Training Institute for Human Service Planning and Change Agentry in Syracuse University warned that some articles advocate legalized killing of the homeless.

With a few exceptions, the media has failed to address such long-range effects of Kevorkian's crusade. Hopefully, the Oakland County prosecutor will.