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JACK KEVORKIAN: "DR. DEATH"
Controversy Stirred Up Over Kevorkian
While many people, including foundation president Alan Gleitsman, consider Kevorkian a "selfless believer in death with dignity", many in the disability community, led by the activists group "Not Dead Yet", see him as nothing more than a dangerous serial killer who would stop at nothing to further his causes.
"It's a travesty that Jack Kevorkian, who for 33 years campaigned to do live experimentation and organ harvesting on death row prisoners without success will be honored at the same time as an anti-death-penalty activist," said NDY's Diane Coleman.
NDY plans to stage a protest tonight.
Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, which usually co-presents the annual award, is limiting its involvement this year. Officials will not comment on whether or not the decision is related to the controversy surrounding Kevorkian, who is currently a 10-to-25-year sentence for second degree murder. The widow of his last "patient" will be accepting the award on Kevorkian's behalf.
Today's Boston Herald looks at the controversy and the
university's position in an article entitled:
This weekend, Ragged Edge Magazine ran the following article on
NDY's position and the plans to protest this evening:
On Friday, NDY posted the following comment on the Hot News
Kevorkian Award Ceremony Full Of
"I know of no other humanitarian award that's been awarded to a serial killer like Jack Kevorkian," Tom Cagle, 48, of Laconia, N.H., told the Boston Globe before the ceremony began.
Kevorkian is serving a 10 to 25 year term for the second degree murder of Thomas Youk who had ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
"Every day he remains in prison is a day too long," Terence Youk, the victim's brother told the audience during the awards ceremony.
"It's a very difficult thing to give up your privacy and leave yourself open to criticism and scorn," explained Melody Youk, who traveled to Massachusetts from her home in Michigan in order to accept the award, in front of an audience of about 50 people. Her husband's death was seen on national television after Kevorkian hand-delivered a video-tape of the death to "60 Minutes".
"He risked his personal freedom ... and today he is in a very small cell, alone but not forgotten.''
Many people with disabilities see Kevorkian's efforts to legalize "physician assisted suicide" as a dangerous threat, particularly at a time where the high costs of health care can weigh so heavily on medical decisions. Disability rights advocates also point out that Kevorkian had pushed for allowing medical experimentation on death row inmates and the harvesting of their organs, and that many of those he assisted in ending their lives did not have terminal conditions.
Kevorkian, who by his own admission has killed 130 people, will share the $100,000 award with Alabama lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who was recognized for his career-long fight against the death penalty. Stevenson has said he was unhappy about sharing the award with Kevorkian.
Civil Rights Leader Resigns From Gleitsman
"The controversy over the Kevorkian matter has caused me to give a lot of thought to lending my name to projects I really know little about," Dee wrote in a March 17 letter to foundation president Alan L. Gleitsman, indicating that his only involvement amounted to choosing from a list of pre-selected nominees.
"I do believe that terminally ill people should have the right to choose to die. But I have never thought of Dr. Kevorkian was a good representative for this very serious issue. He comes off as goofy and egocentric."
Dee resigned from the panel after his office received a number of letters and faxes from people with disabilities and SPLC members protesting the award. A group also demonstrated in front of the building where the awarded was given earlier this month.
Last month panel member Robert Coles, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and famed Harvard University child psychiatrist, indicated that he had not agreed with Gleitsman's choice of Kevorkian.
"Such a melancholy and morally misguided story, that of Dr. Kevorkian and his various initiatives!" wrote Coles in a March 23 letter to disability rights group Not Dead Yet.
Other judges on the panel, including actor and environmentalist Ted Danson, feminist crusader Gloria Steinem and a founder of the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Candace Lightner, have remained silent on the issue.
"Dr. Death" Denied Release From
Oakland County Circuit Judge Jessica Cooper denied Kevorkian's bond request on Thursday, saying it had no merit.
"Now we go to the Court of Appeals," defense attorney Mayer Morganroth said, noting that the advocate of doctor-assisted suicide has high blood pressure.
By his own admission, Kevorkian has claimed "assisting" dozens of people to kill themselves, as part of his campaign to make doctor-assisted suicide legal in the United States. In March of 1999, he was convicted of second-degree murder for inducing the death of Thomas Youk, a man who had amyotropic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Kevorkian was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison.
Disability rights advocates have been critical of Kevorkian's efforts, maintain that legalizing "assisted suicide" would make it "open season" on people with disabilities because of cultural stigmas and the costs society associates with people who have disabilities. They point out that many of Kevorkian's "patients" were not terminally ill, nor in the terminal stages of an illness, but had disabilities, feared having a disability, or did not want to "be a burden" on their family members.
Kevorkian No Angel Of Mercy
Proponents of "physician-assisted suicide" suggest that people who have a terminal illness should have the right to end their own lives in a dignified, "merciful" manner. Many saw the efforts of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who has admitted to "helping" end the lives of over 100 people, as a way to bring this issue into the mainstream. After all, they pointed out, safeguards were in place to make sure only people suffering from the pain of advanced terminal illness were helped to die.
But, according to a study announced in the December 7 New England Journal of Medicine, only 25 per cent of the people Kevorkian "assisted" in Oakland County, Michigan were terminally ill.
Here is a summary of the study from the Journal:
This article from the Boston Globe includes more about the
Kevorkian's Reputation "Too Low" To Be
And that's exactly what the American Medical Association and the Michigan State Medical Society called him back in 1996. In fact, the medical groups went so far as to say Kevorkian, who has since admitted "assisting" in 130 suicides, was a "reckless instrument of death" who "poses a great threat to the public".
Kevorkian sued both groups for libel, claiming their statements were ruining his reputation.
When the case went to trial, the state judge refused requests from the medical groups that the case be dismissed. But in August 1999 an appeals court reversed that judge's decision and threw out the case.
"We find that, as to the issue of assisted suicide, (Kevorkian) is virtually libel proof," the appeals court said. The comments were protected as free speech under the First Amendment, the court explained, adding that lawsuits should be dismissed in cases where "an allegedly libelous statement cannot realistically cause impairment of reputation because the person's reputation is already so low".
Kevorkian, who is currently serving a 10- to 25-year prison sentence for second-degree murder, decided to take the libel case to the U.S. Supreme Court. He argued that the statements from the medical groups were made before his 1998 murder conviction.
On Monday, the high court agreed with the appeals court and rejected Kevorkian's argument without comment.
Last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals denied the notorious "Dr. Death" his request for a new trial.
In 1999, Kevorkian was convicted and sentenced to prison terms of 10 to 25 years for second-degree murder and seven years for delivering a controlled substance. The crusader for "physician-assisted suicides" has claimed that he "assisted" more than 130 people to die. He was finally stopped after he sent a video-tape of the "mercy killing" of Thomas Youk to the television news magazine "60 minutes" for national broadcast.
In his appeal, Kevorkian claimed that his defense attorney, David Gorosh, did not help him enough during his trial. But the appelate court noted that Kevorkian had demanded to represent himself while ignoring the trial judge's repeated reminders of the consequences.
"Defendant chose - almost certainly unwisely but nevertheless knowingly, intelligently, voluntarily, and unequivocally - to represent himself," the appeals court wrote. "He cannot now assign the blame for his conviction to someone who did not act as his trial counsel."
Kevorkian also argued in his appeal that the trial judge acted improperly by not allowing testimony from Houk's widow. But the appellate court wrote that the testimony was irrelevant, that it had nothing to do with the case.
For years, many disability rights advocates have strongly opposed Jack Kevorkian and others who want "assisted suicide" and "mercy killings" to be legal. The advocates argue that making these acts legal would essentially make it "open season" for people with disabilities and any other group that is considered vulnerable or a burden on society.
The group Not Dead Yet applauded the appeals court's decision.
"Kevorkian is a serial killer of disabled people and should stay in prison for the full term of his sentence," said Not Dead Yet's Carol Cleigh in a press statement. "Allowing him freedom would be an insult to disabled people everywhere."
Disability rights advocates have been critical of Jack Kevorkian
for several years, pointing out that many of those he "assisted" were not in
advanced stages of terminal illness as Kevorkian claimed. Not Dead Yet put
together this webpage, dedicated to "The Truth about Assisted Suicide":
A team of reporters with the Detroit Free Press followed Jack
Kevorkian and uncovered much of his motivation over the years. The result is a
comprehensive look at "Dr. Death", which can be found beginning at this web