Dr. Kevorkian Getting Out as Assisted-Suicide Poll Infuriates Disability Activists

From Diversityinc.com  The release of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the famed “Dr. Death,” raises the issue of assisted suicide again and has some disability activists enraged. What’s making it even more contentious is a recent poll alleging growing sympathy among Americans for this practice.

His parole comes after serving eight years of a 10- to 20-year sentence for the second-degree murder of Thomas Youk in 1998. Kevorkian reportedly has assisted the suicide of 130 people.

Dr. Death

The furor over Kevorkian’s release is being led by Not Dead Yet, a national disability organization that views assisted suicide as the “ultimate form of discrimination (that) has been ignored by most media and courts.” The organization states that “For some, a disabled person’s suicidal cry for help was ignored, misinterpreted, or even exploited by the right-to-die movement.”

Not Dead Yet is up in arms over another issue as well. A May 22-24 Associated Press Ipsos Poll of 1,000 adults on the right to die found that 48 percent thought that assisted suicide should be legal and 53 percent believed Kevorkian should not have been jailed for assisting terminally ill people in ending their own lives.

Not Dead Yet disagreed with the way the poll asked the question, believing they were biased.

“The [poll] question misinforms the respondent about the nature of the crime Kevorkian was convicted of and also mischaracterizes the health status of the majority of people who died at his hands,” says Stephen Drake, Not Dead Yet’s research analyst. “As anyone who watched the ’60 Minutes’ telecast knows Kevorkian directly injected lethal chemicals into Youk. This is not assistance.”

Drake refers to the videotape of Youk’s death aired on “60 Minutes.” The tape showed that Youk was unable to press the button that would deliver the fatal drugs to his system. Instead, Kevorkian did it for him. This was proof for the courts that Kevorkian had overstepped legal boundaries, and he was sent to jail in 1999.

According to the National Right to Life, Kevorkian’s other assisted suicides were just as inappropriate. “Autopsies performed revealed that more than half of Kevorkian’s 130 known victims were not terminally ill. Most were disabled with conditions such as multiple sclerosis. In fact, several had no serious physical illnesses that could be determined upon autopsy,” wrote Wesley J. Smith, a keynote speaker at the upcoming NRLC ‘2007 convention.

Kevorkian plans to continue fighting for the legalization of assisted suicide. As of now, Oregon is the only state that has an assisted-suicide law.

“It’s got to be legalized,” Kevorkian said in a phone interview from prison aired on Monday by a Detroit TV station. “I’ll work to have it legalized. But I won’t break any laws doing it.”

Kevorkian is set to appear on “60 Minutes” on June 3. The show will feature an interview with Mike Wallace.

Burke Balch, director of the Powell Center for Medical Ethics at the National Right to Life Committee and an assisted suicide opponent, feels the publicity created could lead to plausible change if more is done to offer hospice care and pain treatment for terminally ill people. “The solution here is not to kill people who are getting inadequate pain management, but to remove barriers to adequate pain management.”

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