Dr. Jack Kevorkian Dies at 83; Backed Assisted Suicide

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Bear in mind that we are talking about several different issues here.

1) Right to self-destruction (suicide).
2) Right for others to assist (assisted suicide).
3) Right for others to end the person's life (euthanasia).

They are not all the same thing. It may be a crime to commit suicide, but as noted above, it can only be prosecuted if it fails (however, it is unusual for it be prosecuted at all).

The second refers to people making it possible for a person to complete the act of suicide on their own. It is not unusual (so I have been told) for doctors to allow terminally-ill patients to have more than enough prescription painkillers in their possession to end their lives painlessly if they should choose to do so; even to giving them information regarding what they should *not* do if they do *not* want to fall asleep and simply never wake up (wink, wink).

The third refers to people (commonly doctors) actually performing the act of ending the patient's life. This is active euthanasia, and that is what got Jack Kevorkian sentenced to prison.

It is possible to hold different opinions on the three positions.

True enough. And it's interesting to note that although Kevorkian went through several trials for assisting patients to end their lives (by use of his suicide machine), his only conviction came from the one case where he actually physically administered the lethal injection.

While this obviously made a difference in the eyes of the law, I think it's a very very fine distinction indeed, since the patient in question had provided his fully informed consent, and unless I'm mistaken, was physically unable to perform the action himself.

Personally, I would draw a much greater distinction between assisted suicide of someone able to give their full consent and euthanasia of someone who was unable to (for instance, in a long-term coma). Of course, this type of situation is where having a living will document that clearly states your wishes ahead of time (do not resuscitate, for example), along with giving power of attorney to someone you trust to make these decisions for you in the event that you can't, can be invaluable.
 

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I think, though I may be incorrect, that suicide is considered a crime simply because if you failed in your attempt, and your were not charged, nothing would change. However if you failed and were charged with something, then the powers that be can get you some form of mental help.

It's great that the medical field wants us to live longer/better, and I don't buy the argument that its about making money, most medical people really do want to help. Simply because of heroic efforts in the past, much can be done in the present that was not possible in the past. However there comes a point where the fight is over, you know you're going to lose and it's just a matter of time, but it's over.

If I am ever in the situation where I am in a medical fight for my life i intend to go kicking and screaming, using everything medical technology can offer, try our whatever you want, maybe it'll help the next person, but there comes a time when you have to make the call and stop all the nonsense and go out with some dignity and class. I want a good death.
 
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Bill Mattocks

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I think, though I may be incorrect, that suicide is considered a crime simply because if you failed in your attempt, and your were not charged, nothing would change. However if you failed and were charged with something, then the powers that be can get you some form of mental help.

I suspect you are correct; it gives the government a legal reason to intervene. Excellent point.

It's great that the medical field wants us to live longer/better, and I don't buy the argument that its about making money, most medical people really do want to help. Simply because of heroic efforts in the past, much can be done in the present that was not possible in the past. However there comes a point where the fight is over, you know you're going to lose and it's just a matter of time, but it's over.

If I am ever in the situation where I am in a medical fight for my life i intend to go kicking and screaming, using everything medical technology can offer, try our whatever you want, maybe it'll help the next person, but there comes a time when you have to make the call and stop all the nonsense and go out with some dignity and class. I want a good death.

I suspect that there are many issues at play. One is clearly that the 'moral' position of many citizens has always been that life is of primary importance. It was not until recently that quality of life became someone one even discussed. If one was alive, one simply thanked one's lucky stars and played the cards dealt them. It was a binary system that preferred life to death, with no other considerations.

Another issue, particularly where it involves the medical, legal, or government establishments, is simply one of liability. Many are the lawsuits convincingly won because one or the other did not take every possible step to prolong human life. It is only recently, again, that many have found themselves in a situation where they are damned if they do and damned if they don't; sued if they let a critically-ill patient slip away without intervening, and sued if they force a patient to live on in pain against their wishes. In a litigious society, which is the correct answer?

I suspect that is why many doctors and hospitals require a very strongly-worded DNR statement, duly witnessed and notarized and pre-dating the current condition; and they won't ask if someone wants one, lest they be sued for putting the idea in their heads. If you want a DNR, you have to get one yourself, and do it while you are healthy. Same with a so-called 'Living Will' or other medical directives aimed at the time when you are incapacitated and unlikely to return to health.
 

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Another issue, particularly where it involves the medical, legal, or government establishments, is simply one of liability. Many are the lawsuits convincingly won because one or the other did not take every possible step to prolong human life. It is only recently, again, that many have found themselves in a situation where they are damned if they do and damned if they don't; sued if they let a critically-ill patient slip away without intervening, and sued if they force a patient to live on in pain against their wishes. In a litigious society, which is the correct answer?

I suspect that is why many doctors and hospitals require a very strongly-worded DNR statement, duly witnessed and notarized and pre-dating the current condition; and they won't ask if someone wants one, lest they be sued for putting the idea in their heads. If you want a DNR, you have to get one yourself, and do it while you are healthy. Same with a so-called 'Living Will' or other medical directives aimed at the time when you are incapacitated and unlikely to return to health.

While I agree that the litigious nature of our society certainly shares some of the burden for the current issues with regard to euthanasia, assisted suicide, and so on, I'd also argue that it's only quite recently that the technology has been developed to allow people to live (or linger, depending on your point of view) much longer with certain illnesses. It's now often possible to keep someone alive indefinitely after their brain has ceased all function... having machines keep the heart going, breathing for the patient, cleaning their blood of toxins, and so on.

With the possibilities provided by the new technology (which also make interesting things like heart transplants possible) come new ethical dilemmas.

It should also be noted that not all cultures historically have revolved around the sanctity of life at all costs philosophy that seems to prevail in the US (at least, by the conviction of Dr. Kevorkian for 2nd degree murder). From the vikings seeking a glorious death in combat to enter Valhalla to the practice of honorable suicide in Japan (up until the last 100 or so years), to the practice by many American Indian tribes when the old or severely ill would wander off by themselves into the wilderness to relieve the tribe of their burden, it's hardly an unprecedented thing to demand the right to die on your own terms when faced with a slow and painful decline.
 
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Bill Mattocks

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With the possibilities provided by the new technology (which also make interesting things like heart transplants possible) come new ethical dilemmas.

True. I was just reading a story about how the new tests that are becoming effective predictors of Alzheimer's might impact this discussion. Suppose you find out you are quite likely or even predicted to suffer from it if you live long enough. Can you state ahead of time that when you lose touch with reality, you want to be put down? You're not going to be in any condition to say so yourself at the time, and you can definitely live a long time without medical care long after you've gone bonkers.

It should also be noted that not all cultures historically have revolved around the sanctity of life at all costs philosophy that seems to prevail in the US (at least, by the conviction of Dr. Kevorkian for 2nd degree murder). From the vikings seeking a glorious death in combat to enter Valhalla to the practice of honorable suicide in Japan (up until the last 100 or so years), to the practice by many American Indian tribes when the old or severely ill would wander off by themselves into the wilderness to relieve the tribe of their burden, it's hardly an unprecedented thing to demand the right to die on your own terms when faced with a slow and painful decline.

Yeah, but this is the USA and our mores are the ones I care about. They change, and I get that. But it doesn't confront me much what Vikings did; I'm not a Viking.
 

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True. I was just reading a story about how the new tests that are becoming effective predictors of Alzheimer's might impact this discussion. Suppose you find out you are quite likely or even predicted to suffer from it if you live long enough. Can you state ahead of time that when you lose touch with reality, you want to be put down? You're not going to be in any condition to say so yourself at the time, and you can definitely live a long time without medical care long after you've gone bonkers.

Or what if, test or no test, one believes they do not want to go through that? My dad suffered from stroke-related dementia. The root cause is slightly different, but the end result was still the same, his mind and body were taken away a piece at a time, over about 10 years.

Do I have a right to say I have seen that first hand, and do not want to follow the same course?

No easy answer but I'd be lying if I said the thought hadn't crossed my mind.
 

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True. I was just reading a story about how the new tests that are becoming effective predictors of Alzheimer's might impact this discussion. Suppose you find out you are quite likely or even predicted to suffer from it if you live long enough. Can you state ahead of time that when you lose touch with reality, you want to be put down? You're not going to be in any condition to say so yourself at the time, and you can definitely live a long time without medical care long after you've gone bonkers.

An excellent question, and honestly I'm not sure what my own answer for this one is. I would respect the wishes of someone who made that choice though.

Yeah, but this is the USA and our mores are the ones I care about. They change, and I get that. But it doesn't confront me much what Vikings did; I'm not a Viking.

LOL. Are you sure? ;) I just wanted to point out that determining your own exit strategy is hardly a new phenomenon.
 
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Bill Mattocks

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An excellent question, and honestly I'm not sure what my own answer for this one is. I would respect the wishes of someone who made that choice though.

Yeah, but let's say your Ronald Reagan's doctor. And let's say he made the decision that he wanted it over with once he went bye-bye mentally. He did know he had Alzheimer's, you might recall. So now you have to decide when that Rubicon is crossed, call Nancy and have her bring him in, and give him the shot. When would that be, exactly? When he starts to mess himself? When he doesn't remember who he is? When he forgets where he lives? When he throws his first temper tantrum? Not to argue with you - I think we're seeing this the same way - just to say when it becomes someone else's call to make, even though it was your initial decision, they have to decide when to proactively put you down. They have to hope that was the point you wanted it to happen.

LOL. Are you sure? ;) I just wanted to point out that determining your own exit strategy is hardly a new phenomenon.

True, but we do have cultural mores that tend to represent the population as a whole. Excluding Bob, of course. :p
 
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