Thursday, June 9, 2011

Not Dead Yet comments on Kevorkian

Stephen Drake, the research analyst for Not Dead Yet, a disability rights group, commented in a very direct manner in an article titled: A little bit about the Real Jack Kevorkian - In His Own Words.

Drake states in his Not Dead Yet commentary (edited):
It seems that a fair number of people are surprised - even stunned - that me or any disabled person has anything at all bad to say about Kevorkian. The fact is, as a writer put it, most supporters of Jack Kevorkian are "------- uninformed idiot(s)".

I think that's a fair label for people who don't want to know any more lest they be challenged to reappraise their opinions of Kevorkian. But I think there are some folks - especially in the disability community, who might want to take a look at some things the mainstream media somehow missed.

In the HBO docudrama, careful viewers might have caught a brief discussion regarding Kevorkian's publication of a book, following the publicity surrounding the assisted suicide of Janet Adkins. The book in question - Prescription: Medicide: The Goodness of Planned Death - detailed Kevorkian's history of advocacy regarding live, lethal human experimentation, which went otherwise unmentioned in the movie.

Before he started aiding the suicides of oppressed, despairing ill, old and disabled people, Kevorkian was most well-known for his campaign to start a new "ethic" toward death and human experimentation. He began his campaign in the 1950s, urging legislation that would allow death row prisoners to elect to be put to death through general anesthesia. There was a catch, though. They would also have to agree to be kept alive for hours or days while surgical experiments were performed on them. (I'm assuming Susan Sarandon didn't know about this part of his past. Judging from publicity statements, she was perfectly OK with his aiding the suicides of despairing disabled women. I think she'd be less OK with experiments on death row prisoners. Most people I hang out with don't like either idea or practice.)

So shortly after his assisted suicide crusade began, Kevorkian tried to tell his adoring public what his real goals were.

1991 book . On page 214 of Prescription: Medicide: The Goodness of Planned Death, Kevorkian admitted that assisting "suffering or doomed persons kill themselves" was "merely the first step, an early distasteful professional obligation.…What I find most satisfying," he wrote, "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 establish — in a word obitiatry."(Obitriatry was Kevorkian's name for his wished-for medical specialty which would involve facilitating deaths, and exploiting the individuals in the killing process through experimentation and organ harvesting.)

Kevorkian's advocacy wasn't limited to death row prisoners and it wasn't limited to people who could express a wish to be killed. Below is an excerpt from a 1988 article in which he describes examples of "daring" experiments that could be performed if his system of ethics were to be adopted. The example below is the last of eleven examples. I've also included his remarks following the "case example."

A full-term infant born with spina bifida, paraplegia, and hydrocephalus is transferred, once proper consent and authorization have been obtained, to an obitorium for research hitherto conducted in rats be researchers interested in the hepatic metabolism of prostaglandin. Test material is given to the anesthetized infant by stomach tube. Two hours later the abdominal cavity is opened, and the intact stomach, small intestine, and liver are removed separately for preservation and subsequent processing for chemical analysis. Meanwhile the infant's heart and lungs are removed for transplantation elsewhere.

The above fanciful events credibly exemplify several almost self-evident points. First, obitiatry would make it possible to conduct daring and highly imaginative research beyond the constraints of traditional but outmoded, hopelessly inadequate, and essentially irrelevant ethical codes now sustained for the most part by vacuous sentimental reverence. Second, the proposed innovation should be extolled by animal rights advocates, because it would eliminate the need for animals now sacrificed unnecessarily in many aspects of academic and industrial research. As a corollary, the advocated practice wold minimize inadvertent human pain and suffering in the conduct of experimental clinical trials of new drugs, devices, or procedures by serving as an intermediate buffer stage between those trials and the first probing experiments on laboratory animals. Finally, taken together, these advantages not only represent a substantial easing of the strain on research budgets; but much more importantly, they help accelerate the medical progress so highly prized in our time. (p. 9)

Kevorkian, Jack. The last fearsome taboo: Medical aspects of planned death. Medicine and Law, vol. 7, pp. 1-14. Link to an article.

So -- anyone out there thinking Jack Kevorkian was a humanitarian and hero - this is what he stood for and it's what you're applauding when you applaud his "career." --Stephen Drake

Link to the original article

Link to the Not Dead Yet blog.

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