Rest In Peace Dr. Jack Kevorkian

The cause of his death was not immediately known, but local media reported that he had suffered from kidney and respiratory problems and that his condition had been worsening in recent days. His death was confirmed by Geoffrey Feiger, the lawyer who represented him during several of his trials in the 1990s.

Dr. Kevorkian, a medical pathologist, challenged social taboos about disease and dying, willfully defied prosecutors and the courts, actively sought national celebrity, and spent eight years in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder in the death of the last of the more than 100 terminally ill patients whose lives he helped end.

From June 1990, when he assisted in the first suicide, until March 1999, when he was sentenced to serve 10 to 25 years in a maximum security prison, Dr. Kevorkian was a controversial figure. But his critics and supporters generally agree on this: As a result of his stubborn and often intemperate advocacy for the right of the terminally ill to choose how they die, hospice care has boomed in the United States, and physicians have become more sympathetic to their pain and more willing to prescribe medication to relieve it.(Finish Reading)

I will be honest and say that I didn’t know much about Kevorkian until I watch You Don’t Know Jack a few months ago.  I had no idea that he actually served prison time for helping patients to fulfill their end of life wishes.  I don’t know much about him besides this fact but I do know that it takes someone courageous to stand up and challenge the law so forcefully.

Assisted suicide is something I strongly believe in.  We fear death and the result of this is that we put our fears upon others and force them to live in unbearable pain.  I know what it is to live in chronic pain but the quality of my life has not reached the point where I feel that life is not worth living; however, I do hope that if the day ever comes, that this solution will be available to me.  It is absolutely inhuman and selfish to force someone to live in pain or judge how they negotiate this pain, even if it means that they opt for death.

He helped 130 people commit suicide and during that time disability activists picketed him, suggesting that his approach was particularly harmful to people living with disability.

Not Dead Yet organizer Woody Osburn is a quadriplegic who works at the Pennsylvania Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Harrisburg, PA.  “I take it real personal,” he says, “when the death specialists say my life isn’t worth living.  I don’t want their pity.  I sure don’t want what they call mercy!”

I have no doubt that because of the high rate of ableism in western society, that there are many people who would believe that their life is not worth living, if they were to suddenly become disabled, because PWD are not valued; however, part of promoting agency is deciding that whether or not we agree with the decision, we need to accept that people should have the right to control not only their lives and bodies, but how their life ends.  This is the ultimate sign of respect.   There will always be instances of abuse when you are dealing with the medical profession and so perhaps the the goal should be to ensure the wishes of the patient rather than denying that the need and desire to die in painful terminal conditions, or living with chronic pain does exist. 

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