After 8 years in prison, Jack Kevorkian, 79, American pathologist of Armenian origin, famously dubbed "Dr Death", will be out on parole this coming Friday (1st June).
[picture - Time magazine cover, 31 May 1993]
He is a champion of patient’s “right to die” and his name became synonymous with the fight to legalise euthanasia.
Euthanasia (from Greek: eu, “good”, thanatos, “death”) - the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy (Merriam-Webster’s dictionary)
More about the subject, including reasons given for and against euthanasia, here and here.
He claims to have helped more than 130 terminally or chronically ill patients die.
June 4, 1990: In the first reported assisted suicide, Kevorkian helps Alzheimer's patient Janet Adkins, 54, kill herself with an intravenous drug machine. Local prosecutor charges him with first-degree murder. However, district judge dismisses charges because Michigan has no assisted suicide law.
Jack Kevorkian’s friend told local press that after release he might travel to his native Armenia and visit a sister in Germany, providing that he gets permission of his parole officer.
According to Detroit Free Press, he will have some restrictions most parolees don't:
- He cannot provide care for anyone older than 62 or who is disabled;
- He can't be present at any suicide or euthanasia;
- He cannot counsel people on how to commit suicide.
However, he can still be a vocal advocate of euthanasia, and, in fact, as that local paper reported, Kevorkian told friends that “he plans to continue his crusade to legalise assisted suicide”.
I am in favour of euthanasia. I believe that people should have a right for dignified death. It is a very sensitive, emotional and difficult issue, which may seem almost impossible to properly regulate since ‘mistakes’ will be irreversible. However, examples from handful of countries which allowed various levels and types of assisted death (see below) prove that it can be successfully regulated and dealt with. I am sure, in time, acceptance of euthanasia will be more widespread, and Jack Kevorkian will be remembered as a kind of hero who through personal sufferings and struggle, fought the way for the right of all patients for dignified death.
Which countries do allow euthanasia? (based on Guardian and BBC)
The Netherlands was the first country to legalise euthanasia, in 2002, and it now accounts for between 4,000 and 5,000 deaths a year. The practice is tightly regulated and it is estimated that doctors - the only people allowed to perform euthanasia - turn down two-thirds of requests. Euthanasia is legal from the age of 12 but a new law before the Dutch parliament could extend it to infants, with their parents consent. The move is aimed at legalising the estimated 12 cases a year where Dutch doctors administer fatal doses of morphine to babies suffering from incurable and terminal illnesses.
Belgium also legalised euthanasia in 2002. Patients there must consciously make the demand and be under "constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain" resulting from an accident or incurable illness.
In the US, Oregon was the first state to allow lethal prescriptions. Doctors can prescribe lethal drugs to help patients commit suicide, but cannot administer them. At least 170 people have used Oregon's Death with Dignity Act to commit suicide since it was implemented in 1998.
The group based in Zurich, Dignitas, has caught the headlines as people with chronic diseases from around the world travel to Switzerland to ask for its help in committing suicide. Dignitas was founded in 1998 by Swiss lawyer, Ludwig Minelli, who runs it as a non-profit organisation. It takes advantage of Switzerland's liberal laws on assisted suicide, which suggest that a person can only be prosecuted if they are acting out of self-interest.
Further on this topic, I would strongly recommend this Spanish film (2004) by director Alejandro Amenábar:
The Sea Inside is the real-life story of Spaniard Ramon Sampedro (brilliantly played by Javier Bardem), who fought a 30 year campaign in favour of euthanasia and his own right to die.