Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

After Jack Kevorkian died, I was asked by several publications to reflect on his death.  I did so in The Corner previously, and now I have two pieces out today bringing different angles to the same story.  First from the National Catholic Register:

We should not speak ill of the dead, we are told. Whenever any of us shuffle off this mortal coil, as Shakespeare so evocatively put it, we should strive to remember the deceased as they might wish and pray that they find the same forgiveness and peace that we ourselves desire.

So, too, with Jack Kevorkian, who died June 3 of natural causes at the ripe age of 83. But not speaking ill does not mean avoiding the truth. Nor does recounting facts constitute a casting of aspersion. Moreover, Kevorkian was a proud atheist who frequently stated — and acted on — his intention to force society to tack into the wind of his own dark desires...

I get into some dark facts about his belief in euthanasia clinics and human vivisection, and conclude:
Kevorkian never recanted these views. To the contrary: He methodically pursued his ghoulish purposes step-by-step for eight years; first, gaining a quasi-license to assist suicides after several juries refused to convict him; then, taking the kidneys from the body of one of his cases and offering them for transplant; to actively lethally injecting Youk. (Euthanasia being necessary for experimentation, since the “subject” would have to be anesthetized.)

It ended there — with prison. But one shudders to think what would have happened if that last jury, like the several before it, had decided to let Kevorkian continue being Kevorkian.

Now, here’s a bit of what I wrote in To The Source about why a macabre man could end up a major celebrity:
I think there are several factors at work. First, we live in an era that extols and admires the social outlaw. Second, a large segment of our increasingly secularized society disdains moralism, fixed principles of right and wrong involving individual behavior, and dreads anything that smacks of “judgmentalism.” These phenomena seem particularly potent when someone defies values deemed to reflect Judeo/Christian religious dogma, such as the general disfavor of suicide. Third, giving moral support to the suicides of ill and profoundly disabled people who want to die arises naturally in an era in which the emotional narrative and Oprah culture drive public opinion.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, “compassion” has become the great justifier for breaking laws and violating social norms. Once Kevorkian stopped talking openly about obitiatry and began proclaiming that he was motivated by his care for suffering patients—even calling himself “Dr. Life” in an interview with Barbara Walters—everything changed. His poll numbers rose substantially, the media fawned, and juries repeatedly refused to convict him for crimes he had clearly committed.

I conclude:
To paraphrase an old rock anthem, nihilism strikes a beat, into your heart it will seep. As the Canadian journalist Andrew Coyne wrote in 1994, decrying the strong public support of Robert Latimer, who murdered his 12-year old daughter because she had cerebral palsy, “A society that believes in nothing can offer no argument even against death. A culture that has lost its faith in life cannot comprehend why it should be endured.”

The late Jack Kevorkian intentionally pulled society down that destructive path. Whether we ultimately become a culture out of Kevorkian’s dark imaginings will determine his final historical legacy.

Jack Kevorkian was a force for ill in our society. There’s no sugar coating what he stood for—or more ominously—what he wanted us to become.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles