Why is Kevorkian threatening a hunger strike?

by Jay Johansen
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On April 14, 1999 Jack Kevorkian was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison for the second-degree murder of Thomas Youk. As he was being led off to prison, he declared that he would go on a hunger strike in protest. He told the Oakland Press of Pontiac, "My captivity is still enslavement, and I am not going to go along with it".

Jack Kevorkian has made himself the national champion for "assisted suicide". He freely admits that he has assisted 130 people in killing themselves. Plenty of people have made jokes about the obvious irony here. If Mr Kevorkian wants to starve to death, well, he's made it pretty clear that he believes that suicide is a fundamental human right, so we certainly wouldn't want to impose our morality on him by stopping him, would we?

But all jokes aside, let's ask ourselves a serious question: Why is Mr Kevorkian threatening to go on a hunger strike?

Does Mr Kevorkian really want to die? I think not. It's pretty clear that Mr Kevorkian is doing this as a form of protest, or an attention-getting scheme. Perhaps he hopes that people will say, "Wait, this man hasn't done anything so terrible that he deserves to die. If this is the choice, just let him go." Perhaps he is doing it for the media attention that he knows it will bring. Or perhaps he simply hopes that people will come forward and force-feed him, or at least talk him out of it, and assure him that they don't want him to die, that his life has value, that there are people out there who care about him. And he has plenty of friends and supporters who will surely come forward to assure him that he shouldn't do this, because he is needed to continue the fight for the "right to die", that his life is valuable and important.

But ... isn't it possible that the people who have come to Mr Kevorkian over the past nine years for assistance in suicide were seeking exactly the same thing?

Dr L J Dragovich, the Oakland County chief medical examiner, performed autopsies on 69 of the people who died with Mr Kevorkian's assistance. He reported that only 16 were terminally ill, and 5 showed no evidence of disease at all.

Most of the people who came to Mr Kevorkian were not terminally ill. It is likely that most were not suffering from unusual physical pain. For most, their problem was that they were old or handicapped, and they were feeling useless, a burden on their family and friends and society in general.

Did these people really want to die? Or were their attempted suicides a cry for help? How many planned a suicide in the hope that someone, anyone, would say, "Oh no, please don't do this terrible thing. We love you. We need you here with us. You still have so much to give." But no one said that. Instead, friends and relatives and doctors and juries smiled and said, "Yes, a wise choice. You're such a burden on your family. You're costing the insurance company so much money. Everyone would be so much better off if you'd just kill yourself and get out of the way."

And 130 unhappy people died sad and lonely deaths.

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Posted 9 Sep 2000.
Copyright 1999 by Jay Johansen.
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