This is my last planned installment on the release of Jack Kevorkian from prison. The article could have been called “Kevorkian in His Own Words,” for I present his motives for engaging in his assisted suicide campaign, as he stated them—the right to engage in human experimentation on people he was euthanizing or executing.
He began seeking the right to engage in what he came to call “obitiatry” as far back as 1959. In the 1980s, he continued writing in journals, adding the use of condemned prisoners’ organs as a benefit to society out of the death penalty. When he was finally turned down by all prisons, he “conceived of the idea” of transferring this desire from the condemned to those seeking euthanasia. And this was the point all along, as he wrote in Prescription Medicide:
I feel it is only decent and fair to explain my ultimate aim: It is not simply to help suffering and doomed persons kill themselves—that is merely the first step, an early distasteful professional obligation (now called medicide) that nobody in his or her right mind could savor. [W]hat I find most satisfying is the prospect of making possible the performance of invaluable experiments or other beneficial medical acts under conditions that this first unpleasant step can help establishin a word obitiatry.What kind of experiments? Pure quackery:
If we are ever to penetrate the mystery of death—even superficially—it will have to be through obitiatry. Research using cultured cells and tissues and live animals may yield objective biological data, and eventually perhaps even some clues about the essence of mere vitality or existence. But knowledge about the essence of human death will of necessity require insight into the nature of the unique awareness of or consciousness that characterizes cognitive human life. That is possible only through obitiatric research on living human bodies, and most likely centering on the nervous system...on anesthetized subjects [to] pinpoint the exact onset of extinction of an unknown cognitive mechanism that energizes life.Kevorkian never quite got there, but he came close. He ripped out the kidneys of one of his later victims and held a press conference offering them to the public, “First come, first served.”
Here is how I conclude:
Don’t expect any of these disturbing issues to be raised by Mike Wallace or Kevorkian’s other interlocutors. The media want to tell a fairy tale of Jack the Martyr jailed for pursuing the enlightened cause of compassion and “death with dignity.” But the truly interesting story that will go mostly unwritten is how a clearly twisted personality—driven to his assisted suicide campaign by an obsession with human vivisection and a desire to exploit the weak and desperate for crass utilitarian purposes —became, for a time, the most famous and popular doctor in the world.
P.S. I just was told by a radio producer that Wallace met Kevorkian when he got out of prison. In this story, Mike Wallace is not a journalist but an advocate.