Monday, June 6, 2011

Thank You Dr. Kervorkian

Dr. Kervorkian passed away last week. He was a tireless advocate for death with dignity. Although the press sensationalized his stance, dubbing him "Doctor Death,  Kervorkian felt that physician assisted suicide was something that should be made legal. A few watered down versions of Physician Assisted suicide have been made into law... Kervorkian insisted it needed to be a format where the Doctor helped administer the drugs that resulted in death. If it is a pill the patient was required to take on their own, he argued, it requires that person to be able to swallow a pill. Some gravely ill patients, about to die, are not able to do so.

The Detroit Free Press reports:
"All was at the ready. The man so many people had vilified as "Dr. Death" looked directly into the man's eyes and asked quietly if he wanted to be injected with the drugs that would bring about his painless death. The answer was more in the eyes than in the barely perceptible nod of the head.
Kevorkian led the man's hand to be small plunger-type valve and bade him depress it. With considerable difficulty, he did. The man's wife stood at the bedside with her hand on her husband's shoulder. In what seemed to me to be a very long time but probably wasn't, the dying man died as peaceful and uneventful a death as I, by then a priest for nearly a quarter of a century, had ever witnessed.
I heard myself say, "May he rest in peace, and light perpetual shine upon him," an antiphon from the funeral rite of the "Book of Common Prayer."
A neighbor had somehow entered the room without any of us already there realizing it. She said quietly something to the effect that the perpetual light of which I had spoken was shining even then in that room because the right thing had been done for the right reasons, and that thing had been an act of love.
I am certain that it was. I thought so then, and I think so now.
Harry T. Cook is a retired Episcopal priest, a journalist and the author of eight books."

The irony of this end of life decision making , is that people struggle so much to get health care coverage in the U.S. , when they are younger & healthier & have a good chance of recovery. When people are at their natural end of life, or terminally ill, NOW the rules & laws are in place to keep people alive- when they no longer need it. 

Dr. Kervorkian never charged any money for his services to assist people who wish to end their lives. He was not in it for the profit, and he risked losing his medical license & even did jail time for assisting people to die. He brought the topic to the forefront, and helped people who were terminally ill & suffering. 
It always bothered me that we as a society, could find it in our hearts to have a beloved pet euthanized, in order to spare them suffering a slow, prolonged & painful death-- but Grandma would have to tough it out. 
This always stirs up the issue of Doctor's playing god & acting against the oath they took to "first do no harm". If you have ever witnessed someone w terminal illness suffer, you realize the suffering does more harm. Of course anyone who was opposed to the intervention could opt out, but as it stands, it is not an option to opt in. 
1994 was the year Oregon voters approved the Death with Dignity Act, the first state to enact a law that lets terminally ill people end their lives by taking lethal medication supplied by a doctor. It provided clear restrictions that set a medical process for physician-assisted suicide by mandating multiple doctor consultations to ensure the person is terminally ill and has no more than six months left to live, and to determine the person is mentally sound enough to take their own life.

Unlike the earlier ballot measures that had failed in Washington and California, the doctor couldn’t administer the medication, only the patient could. After legal challenges to the law, Oregon voters approved the measure again in 1997.
To date, only Oregon & Washington have physician assisted suicide laws. 
"Multiple legislative and legal efforts on assisted-suicide, as well as a 1991 New York Times bestselling book written by right-to-die activist Derek Humphry that detailed how to end your own life, were part of a major cultural shift on death in the 1990s, said Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Portland-based Death with Dignity National Center.
So many activists were working within the system, trying to persuade lawmakers to write a state-sanctioned policy, Sandeen said. But Kevorkian was on the outside — he didn’t even support the Oregon law, believing that a doctor should be part of the entire process including the end.
Through the 1990s, Kevorkian assisted in the deaths of about 130 people.
In 1998, Kevorkian broadcast his assisted suicide of Thomas Youk on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” A year later, Kevorkian was found guilty of second-degree homicide and served eight years in a Michigan prison.
Washington voters joined Oregon in 2008, becoming the second state in the nation to allow physician-assisted suicide when they approved their own Death with Dignity law, largely modeled on their neighbor’s. State health records show that in 2010, 65 Oregonians took their lives under the law and at least 51 Washingtonians did the same after requesting and taking a lethal prescription."
Thank you Dr. Kervorkian for your brave & compassionate campaign for death with dignity. He did so at great personal sacrifice, and brought great relief to families of loved ones who wanted to spare their loved ones unnecessary pain & suffering. May you rest in peace, knowing you brought peace to so many others. 


D W JazzLover said...

I am at the end of my journey now, and I do understand his compassion...R.I.P

Fran said...

I did not know DW that you are at the end of your journey. I know you said you used to work in Care Facilities, so you saw first hand what "life" was like for those who had prolonged end of life suffering.

I'm all about "quality" of life, and I'm really not into pain & suffering.
It is a most personal decision, but at some point nature & a higher power decide.

We had a loved one whose well meaning spouse changed his medical directive from DNR to Full Code- this resulted in 1.5 years of additional medical intervention, surgeries, & extreme pain & complications.

After that, my spouse & I swore to each other we would not mess with each other's medical directive.

nonnie9999 said...

have you seen "how to die in oregon"? it was hard to watch, but it left me strangely at peace when it was over.

D.K. Raed said...

nonnie, it was excellent. the individual stories were sad but the overall feeling was one of happiness that the terminal patients were able to exercise their one remaining control.

I am so glad a man like Kervorkian existed and paved the way and that a state like oregeon provides the progressive light for the rest of us. it's simply inhuman to treat people worse than their pets.

Why can't Death with Dignity be available in all states? Why do terminal patients have to suffer so? I think we would all be better people if we knew the end for our friends and relatives and eventually ourselves need not be so brutally painful.

Fran said...

Nonnie, I have not seen it, but DK said it was good.

DK ~ I'm surprised that only 2 states in this country have physician assisted suicide.

Even then, lots of hoops to go through.

Still people should have the option to exit as they wish w/o the pain & suffering.

But only in America do we have no health care when you need it, but won't let you die when it is time!