Humanists: Momentarily Dazed and Confused, or What?
a veteran of the war for truth during the Kevorkian era of the assisted suicide
debates, it astounds me when I see that some companions battling for social
justice are still entangled in the Kevorkian-as-humanist illusion web. Someone
emailed me recently that before Kevorkian was jailed they saw an all-smiles Tom
Cruise go over to Kevorkian at a Hollywood party and pat him on the back.
Vonnegut fantasizes about being guided into and back from death by Jack and his
death machine in God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian. Of course, Kevorkian is the
number one martyr for the Hemlock Society which recently aired the video version
of "Final Exit" on Oregon public access TV. Not Dead Yet, which has
taken the lead in opposing Kevorkian, calls the Hemlockers the 4 W's: the
White, Well-off, Worried, and Well. Organizer Diane Coleman explains they
[Hemlockers] don't care how many of our people are encouraged---even
pressured---to die, so long as they themselves can have the security of a clean,
neat, sanitized suicide at the hands of a medical professional. Despite the
fact that Jack has been stripped of his doctorhood in several states and most
recently, jailed for murder, some believers hold onto the image of Kevorkian as
a symbol of humanism.
follows that my question must be, does Kevorkian have the humanists fooled or
what? Or maybe I misunderstand what humanism is. Is it humanistic, for instance,
to be willing to step in and help a disabled person die rather than provide the
means to live? Is it humanistic (or even defensible) to assist an obviously
depressed 43-year-old woman to her death who was diagnosed with a nonterminal
but impairing condition and then abandoned by a husband who also took her
children away from her? That is what Kevorkian did to the vulnerable Sherry
Miller who needed anti-depressants and a good lawyer, not a visit with Dr.
it humanistic to assist a quadriplegic to his death, do a botched job taking out
his kidneys, and then dump him at a hospital doorstep? That is what Kevorkian
did to Joseph Tushkowski. The Oakland Countys medical examiner called
Tushkowskis body a "scene from a slaughterhouse." For the
uninformed, Kevorkian's self-stated goal (Prescription Medicide) is to establish
a "new specialty" of obitiatry, that is medical killing, and to carry
out human experimentation and transplantations in death centers he planned to
set up all over the country. Harvesting Joseph's organs must have been practice
for this scheme.
it humanistic to assist in the suicide of a disabled man who has been waiting
for nine agonizing months for a wheelchair from his horrible HMO? That is what
Kevorkian did to Matt Johnson. Matt's wheelchair came the day after Kevorkian's
visit - one day too late to free him from his seemingly permanent bed-ridden
state and the actual permanent state of death.
it humanistic for a doctor to fatally inject a man with whom the doctor has only
had two meetings within the 48 hours before he kills him? When asked later by
the Oakland Press what Youk's last words had been, Kevorkian responded, "I
don't know. I never understood a thing he said." That was Thomas Youk's
"dignified" death at the hands of this understanding and
compassionate administrator of death.
it humanistic to aid in the death of a man whose greatest fear is that he will
be forced to live in a rat infested nursing home? That was a reason Wallace
Spolar gave when he called on Kevorkian and engaged his services.
reports and court records indicate that 66 of Kevorkian's 93
"patients" did not fall within the generally described category of
terminally ill (life expectancy of six months or less). Janet Adkins, who had
recently been diagnosed with Alzheimers, was reported to have played tennis
the week before her appointment with Kevorkian. Judith Curren had chronic
fatigue, was depressed and had filed domestic abuse charges against her husband
two weeks before her killing. Yet another was a depressed battered wife who did
not have Multiple Sclerosis as claimed. Kevorkian, who defines terminal illness
as "any disease that curtails life even for a day," aided all these
people into the irreversible state of death.
it humanist to assisted people to a premature death when they suffer ugly
economic circumstances and social conditions and need help from society to get
through a difficult time. Isn't it humanistic, rather, to fight for resources
and social justice and to avoid death as the social "solution"?
is it that some people are so quick to join the death-is-the-answer position
when it comes to disablement and dont seem to be able to see disability as a
neutral factor in life? Why is disability so charged for them? I can only
surmise that these nondisabled people fear disablement so much that they
automatically assume that they are doing us a favor by supporting our right to
die. But, in a social justice context, if the right to die was an equal
opportunity matter and not specifically directed at those with chronic
conditions, then the advocates would give healthy 20 year olds the same right to
die too, wouldnt they?
individuals on other social justice issues have come up to me on more than one
occasion and said, I just dont see how you do it. I couldnt do it -
meaning get on with my life in spite of my disability. These people seem
to think that they could not accept life with a disability and make projections
about what they could or would not do if they were in my shoes, but this is
often just a first take on a complex continuum of experience. For instance, I
have quadriplegic friends who did contemplate suicide their first weeks of
disablement but are glad that the option of physician assisted death wasnt
available because they got over their depressions, adjusted to the disability,
and are living out their lives being a comedian, a spouse, and/or a parent. A
good friend of mine has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for about a decade now.
Her son just finished college.
ableist and individualist projections about the experience of disablement are a
complete avoidance of the headier collective issues at stake. Why dont these
same people ask me are disabled people getting the health care and services
that they need? Dont they know money is being valued over people in the
health care system? Dont they know people are still forced into nursing homes
against their will? Dont they also know about the role of race and poverty
discrimination in the health care system? How about acknowledging that ableism
plays a role similar to race and class?
a Written Statement to Court, Aug. 17, 1990, Kevorkian made the statement,
"The voluntary self-elimination of individuals and mortally diseased or
crippled lives taken collectively can only enhance preservation of public health
and welfare." Kevorkian, in other words, presented an ableist economic
argument for singling out and killing disabled people.
well-intentioned humanists miss, it seems, is that economics are in the
background of the "right to die" movement - a fact which even Derek
Humphry, co-founder of the Hemlock Society, the oldest and largest
pro-euthanasia/assisted suicide group, acknowledges. In his latest book,
"Freedom to Die - People, Politics and the Right to Die Movement,"
Humphry says it will be the unspoken argument for assisted suicide - cost
containment - that will ensure the eventual passage of laws legalizing assisted
suicide and euthanasia. In Final Exit, Humphry predicted legalization
would encourage greater 'tolerance' of the suicide of 'the handicapped.'
is a fact that the 9th Circuit (San Francisco) court's decision in support of
physician-assisted suicide specifically targeted the handicapped as
"beneficiaries." It stated that it may be acceptable for
"competent, terminally ill adults to take the economic welfare of their
families and loved ones into consideration" when deciding whether to live
or die, and it defended the use of assisted suicide to control medical costs. In
some quarters, quadriplegia has been designated as a terminal illness.
are the other stake holders? The Oregon assisted suicide bill was authored by an
HMO executive. Vice President Barbara Coombs-Lee of Ethix Corp., was chief
petitioner of the Measure which created Oregon's law legalizing
physician-assisted death. But media reports concerning Coombs-Lee failed to make
much of her professional occupation within a health insurance group. She was
portrayed as a passionate ideologue who cared only for things like "patient
autonomy," an end to "intolerable pain," and offering "death
with dignity." Coombs-Lee's role as a financially motivated health industry
hatchet woman was carefully buried throughout the 1994 campaign. Ethix Corp.
embraced the new "treatment, stating that they "welcome broad
coverage for assisted suicide in a medical economic system already
burdened." A lethal dose in Oregon costs only $35 to $50; compare that to
one day's stay in a hospital, about $1,000.
care corporations do manipulate fees to control gatekeeper physicians
approval of expenditures on patients. Doctors are given bonuses for keeping
costs low and often find their contracts revoked when they do not conform to HMO
administrators directives. Dr. Linda Peeno, a physician who found herself in
such a predicament, testified before the House Commerce Committee (May 30, 1996)
"...I wish to begin by making a public confession. In the spring of 1987,
as a physician, I caused the death of a man ... Although this was known to many
people, I have not been taken before any court of law or called to account for
this in any professional or public forum. In fact, just the opposite occurred: I
was 'rewarded' for this. It brought me an improved reputation in my job, and
contributed to my advancement afterwards. Not only did I demonstrate I could do
what was expected of me, I exemplified the "good" company doctor: I
saved a half million dollars!"
Kevorkians actions accurately describes humanism then humanism is aligned
with the bourgeois eugenicists, social Darwinists, corporate bean counters, and
Malthusian population control zealots who target disabled lives as lives not
worth living and label us a burden on society and their bottom lines.
liberal court decisions be used for their purposes? Of course! The issue of
physician-assisted suicide must be viewed within the context of an economic
order which is overriding public welfare and a health care system which is
entrenched in profit making. Millions of Americans are uninsured or
under-insured and in need of quality health care. Some insured have already
found themselves denied life-giving treatments because HMO health care rationing
is a real, not an imaginary, thing. Some may have found themselves without the
cash to pay for the treatment or to pay a lawyer to intervene. Most anyone can
become depressed because they do not want to be a burden on the family. Yet one
may not be ready to die but see no other way out.
perhaps the family might decide such a member is too burdensome and join the
Hemlock society. The Hemlock Society issued a widely ignored press release which
asked that family members and other "agents" be able to procure court
orders to kill "a demented parent, a suffering severely disabled spouse, or
a child" if their lives are "too burdensome to continue." That's
involuntary euthanasia. According to the National Elder Abuse Incidence Study
conducted by the Administration on Aging, several hundred thousand elderly
Americans are abused by family members each year in this country. The FBI
reports that 21.2 % of homicides of individuals age 50 and over are committed by
family members. Humphrys new video provides detailed information on how to
disguise murders of disabled and elderly people as suicides.
Kevorkian at your doorstep, then, look like a savior or a guy who was furthering
his future at the expense of yours?
genuine humanists, it seems, are not the ones joining the death culture. Rather,
they are the ones fighting for a disability sensitive universal health care
system, a national in-home care program like MICASSA (Medicaid Community
Attendant Services and Supports Act), living wages, and an income floor beneath
which no one falls. They are the ones calling for enforcement of civil and human
rights and for imposing serious penalties on those who commit domestic violence.
They are the ones searching for the means to build an economy which supports
peoples needs over capitalist accumulation.
Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.