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Me and Jack Kevorkian

Michael Egnor


In his usual spot-on fashion, my colleague Wesley Smith has written on numerous occasions about the late euthanasia fanatic Dr. Jack Kevorkian — see here, more recently. Wesley has given his own prophetic account of Kevorkian’s profound influence on euthanasia policy in the United States and Europe. Please real the whole thing. It’s right on target, and chilling.

My own experience with Kevorkian’s work has haunted me for twenty years. It helped convince me of the vital importance of the anti-euthanasia movement.

In the mid 1990s I read a lot about Kevorkian and assisted suicide and euthanasia in the press. One afternoon I went to the library of my medical school (I teach on the faculty) to learn more about Kevorkian. I looked up articles he had published in the medical literature. I left the library, a few hours later, shaken.

I found articles that Kevorkian published in mainstream medical journals dating back to the 1950s, advocating the performance of medical experiments on condemned prisoners, including experiments during the execution itself. He worked nights in a hospital in Detroit photographing the eyes of dying patients, sometimes wearing a black armband. He recommended harvesting organs from death row prisoners, and advocated (and actually carried out) experiments in which he drained blood from cadavers of accident victims and used the blood for transfusions. He published many papers in the journal Medicine and Law advocating euthanasia, and published extensively on refinements of techniques that doctors should use for killing patients. One of his articles, in Medicine and Law in 1988, was titled "The Last Fearsome Taboo: Medical Aspects of Planned Death."

I left the library with a very different view of Kevorkian than I had when I entered — and I didn’t much like the guy to begin with. What I learned of Kevorkian since has been no less horrific. He cut out the kidneys of one man he killed in a hotel room, and at a press conference offered them for transplantation. He made paintings that are blatantly sadistic, and he was convicted of murder in 1998 and sent to prison. During his career, this poster-child for the assisted suicide movement killed at least 130 people. He was paroled from prison in 2007, and died in 2011.

Kevorkian was portrayed in a 2010 Hollywood movie You Don’t Know Jack, which celebrated his life. Al Pacino won both Emmy and Golden Globe awards for his work in the leading role, in which Kevorkian was portrayed as a courageous innovator.

Hollywood encomiums aside, Kevorkian was one of the genuine monsters of the 20th century. His profligate homicides place him alongside Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy as a serial killer. But, euthanasia defenders will reply, Bundy and Gacy killed people against their will, and Kevorkian merely assisted people who wanted to commit suicide. How can they be compared?

I reply: Bundy and Gacy were also sadists and serial killers, but unlike Kevorkian they didn’t start a mass cultural movement that stands to put the lives of millions of ill and handicapped and depressed and merely despondent people at risk. Kevorkian was a professional sadist. His medical imprimatur makes his crimes against humanity — and that is what euthanasia is — even more dangerous.

He was no ordinary serial killer, but rather the vanguard of a transformation in Western medical ethics to which there is no bottom. Using a patina of medical skill and a guise of compassion to cover an obsession with killing, Kevorkian was instrumental in the establishment of a two-tier ethical standard on the sanctity of human life. Medical ethics is tilting toward Kevorkian’s ethics: the lives of the healthy and happy are (for now) protected, but the lives of the unhealthy and the unhappy are expendable.

Image: By RaffiJackMayer.JPG: Halebtsi derivative work: Francesco 13 (This file was derived from:�RaffiJackMayer.JPG) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.