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Medicine The Courts Science

Jack Kevorkian Dead at 83 184

theodp writes "Jack Kevorkian, the pathologist said to have had a role in more than 130 assisted suicides, has died from kidney-related complications on the eve of the 21st anniversary of his first assisted suicide. Kevorkian, who served more than eight years in prison for second-degree murder, had his story told in the HBO movie You Don't Know Jack. His antics and personality brought a certain approachability to a grim subject — the fundamental right of terminally ill patients to choose to die. 'I will debate so-called ethicists,' he once said. 'They are not even ethicists. They are propagandists. I will argue with them if they will allow themselves to be strapped to a wheelchair for 72 hours so they can't move, and they are catheterized and they are placed on the toilet and fed and bathed. Then they can sit in a chair and debate with me.' RIP, Dr. Jack."
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Jack Kevorkian Dead at 83

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  • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @08:03AM (#36336430) Journal

    Why would he have killed himself, when he didn't have a terminal illness and was actually expected to recover?

    Even if he was hospitalized with a terminal illness and in pain, who would have helped him kill himself?

  • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @08:29AM (#36336496)
    Government, and religion. This is slashdot, where we blame religion for everything, but this time that is where the blame belongs. There's a lot of superstitious thought around - people who think human life is something magical and supernatural, which must be sustained by any means until the very last moment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 04, 2011 @08:33AM (#36336514)

    Even if he was terminally ill, why should he be expected to end his life? Did he promote euthenasia, or choice of euthenasia?

    Captcha: altruism

  • by uglyduckling ( 103926 ) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @08:43AM (#36336558) Homepage
    Objections to assisted suicide aren't only about the act, they're about the process. In other words, many people (including myself) believe that it is impossible to make assisted suicide available without compromising the protection of those who do not wish to commit suicide, but might be directly or indirectly pressured to do so. This includes internal pressure (e.g. mental illness). I do actually disagree with assisted suicide on principle, but even if I were to accept that ideally people should have a right to choose when they die, I would oppose its legalisation on the basis that the protection of the vulnerable (i.e. those who wouldn't wish to die early but by failure of the process end up doing so) trumps the desire of those who with a clear mind and without coercion do wish to die early. Can I also correct you on one point - there is a world of difference between deliberately causing death, and allowing death by not treating - the right to refuse treatment is enshrined in international and national law, so sustaining life "by any means" cannot (or at least should not) be imposed on anybody.
  • by KiloByte ( 825081 ) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @08:48AM (#36336592)

    He wasn't rendered helpless by his illness -- until his last visit to the hospital shortly before his death. And if this bout of illness would be staved off, he'd have a few more years of mostly fully able life. Most of us have some illness a good part of their lives -- be that bad blood pressure, diabetes, allergy or whatever else. He did succumb to his kidney problems, but was more able at the age of 83 than most of you will be.

    On the other hand, those who are rendered helpless -- trapped in a body that no longer works -- do suffer for no good reason. When you can't move on your own, have to fed and have your poo cleaned by others, and most importantly, have no hope of it ever getting better -- you're effectively in the most cruel jail.

  • by aztrailerpunk ( 1971174 ) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @08:57AM (#36336618)
    I appreciate the other news on slashdot. It's one of the last few places I can go to read comments that are not clearly based on a political agenda. I can read a discussion from an educated audience that is generally willing to converse intelligently and not just flame people that are the outliers on a school of thought.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 04, 2011 @10:13AM (#36336892)

    "I'm sorry for your loss, as a rationalist I can say, without a doubt, he is no longer suffering."

  • by vadim_t ( 324782 ) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @10:15AM (#36336900) Homepage

    Kevorkian led a long life in service of a greater good. What do you propose we as empiricists, spiritual naturalists, rationalists (call us anything other than the unscientific word "atheist" that defines us in a religious context) say to honor the dead and comfort the living? I'm genuinely curious.

    IMO, if you have something on hand for that situation, your words are empty. Things like "god bless" and "he's in a better place" are just like "gesundheit" for sneezing. Things that are automatically said because you're supposed to. And since you're supposed to and not doing any thinking, they don't mean anything.

    I'd have some trouble figuring out what to say in that situation as well. What I would do is trying to figure out how I can help, and that's going to depend on who I'm dealing with. I don't think there's a formula for it.

  • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @10:53AM (#36337056) Homepage

    Personally, I doubt the motivation of health insurance companies would at all be driven by the ability of patients to kill themselves (which to some extent is an option many already have). At some point insurance companies stop paying for heroic measures anyway, and I doubt that the legal availability would impact that.

    Now, the consumer demand for insurance that covers more desperate treatments might very well drop if euthanasia becomes more socially acceptable, and that might impact what insurance companies are willing to cover. That is a bit more indirect than what you are suggesting.

    Most people don't realize it, but EVERY insurance company puts a price on life - and that includes national healthcare systems as well. If a $100k procedure would extend your life of an 85 year old quadriplegic by one day no insurance system on this planet would pay the bill. If the same procedure was likely to give a 15 year old a normal healthy lifespan (vs death in a few weeks) chances are most insurance systems would pay it (even private insurance in the US). The basic algorithm looks at how a treatment extends your life and/or improves the quality of your life - the more it does both the more it is allowed to cost. In the end everybody puts a price on life - we just don't like to talk about it.

  • human rights (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Khashishi ( 775369 ) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @02:13PM (#36337282) Journal

    To me, the debate on suicide is not about suffering, but about human rights. If we do not own our own physical bodies, what do we own at all? There is nothing more unequivocally yours than you. For a state to take control of your own body away from you is capital theft, akin to slavery.

  • Worrying that legal euthanasia may lead to trouble with insurance companies is only a problem in the very few, terribly uncivilized, western countries that do not have universal medical care paid for by taxes. Everywhere else the issues are to make sure the correct controls are in place so that only the truly terminal, that truly desire to die, and are competent to make that decision are euthanasized.

    Oregon has a very reasonable law controlling euthanasia in that state, and to the best of my knowledge it has not caused any medical insurance to be denied.

  • by durrr ( 1316311 ) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @04:29PM (#36337916)
    The unreasonable part is that some moron can block my consent to such experiments. When did we redefine freedom as "what lawmakers decide".
  • Well as someone who lost his sister in 07 to a long and horribly drawn out illness, watching as she slowly but surely fell apart with nothing the doctors could do to even stop the pain (she had a rare degenerating nerve disorder) I appreciate the work that Mr Kevorkian did and the price he paid to bring the rights of the suffering to the national spotlight.

    Despite our advances in medicine the are plenty of times where all medical interventions are useless and the pain simply can NOT be in any way controlled. While my sister wouldn't have taken the option no matter how much she suffered (she wanted to live long enough to see her oldest start college, she unfortunately died 6 months before he began) the simple fact is as intelligent creatures it should be our right to choose whether we wish to endure the suffering or not.

    The way I've always looked at it is this: if you would put an animal down rather than making it endure that kind of hellish suffering, then why in God's name would you make a human being go through that? By the end my sis's lungs were failing, she could no longer speak more than a word or two, couldn't eat or drink because her ability to swallow was failing, her nerves were lit up like pins and needles, and just the act of turning her could easily break bones. Why would anyone force someone to live through that? They should have the choice as intelligent beings to decide if that is how they want to be or not. To have it any other way is simple cruelty.

  • by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @07:20PM (#36338826) Journal

    ...there is a world of difference between deliberately causing death, and allowing death by not treating...

    Oh, legally, sure. Practically, however, it's a matter of dumb chance. Someone who wishes to die (and makes that as a clear, deliberated, rational, cool-headed choice) has to wait to 'luck in' to an incidental ailment that can be neglected to the point of lethality. The terminal cancer patient with pneumonia gets to choose whether or not to commit suicide by refusal of IV antibiotic treatment. An otherwise identical patient with terminal cancer but no pneumonia doesn't get that choice.

    If you accept that there is the potential for abuse by coercing individuals into legal assisted suicide (were such an option available), you also have to accept that there is the potential for abuse involving coercion of individuals into accepting (potentially) therapeutic interventions that they don't actually want. For physicians, there is much more incentive to enroll terminally-ill patients in advanced clinical trials than there is to coerce them into suicide.

Overload -- core meltdown sequence initiated.