THE MACABRE SIDE OF COMPASSION

Dr. Death, better known as Dr. Jack Kevorkian, age 70, was sentenced by Michigan judge Jessica Cooper to 10 to 25 years in prison yesterday for the crime of second-degree murder. The offense for which he will serve this sentence, and his own likely death in a jail cell, was the lethal injection of drugs into the veins of Thomas Youk, a 52 year old accountant who was suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The judge refused to admit testimony from the dead man's wife and brother that was intended to put the murder victim's life and death into perspective. Compassion and a philosophical discussion about mercy evidently have nothing to do with legal statutes. From the law's point of view, one man died and another man video taped himself doing the killing. The murderer then sent the tape to a major TV network, which showed it during prime-time. It was that simple. Open and shut. Guilty.

The facts are simple, and there is no question Kevorkian was responsible for Youk's death. Nevertheless, his major crime may have been that of repeatedly flaunting the concept of euthanasia or mercy killing, in America's, Michigan's, and the judge's face. One can often break laws, commit what once was regarded as sin, and conceal damning indiscretions if the acts are done quietly and with circumspection. Dr. Death has long been an in-your-face advocate of putting suffering people down the way we do terminally ill dogs, cats, horses with broken legs, and sick cattle. Not only does he remind us of our own mortality, he pointedly shows us the quality of human life can reach depths at which living becomes a painful curse. Jack Kevorkian has forced us to view a concept that is considered politically incorrect: there can be kindness in the taking of life, kindness in death. He also at last forced the law to deal with his actions in serially putting large numbers of suffering human beings out of their misery. Savant or sinner, lover of death or hater of pain, administrator of the Hemlock, or wise, compassionate human being: take your pick and apply the title.

With a rapidly aging population, our ultimate decease guaranteed, and medical technology capable of providing miracles daily by extending life, or in my view, prolonging death, the nasty questions that Dr. Kevorkian won't allow us to sweep under the rug will eventually have to be addressed. He has been a water torture to our society, providing a steady drip-drip of tortured faces, a procession of pained human beings looking for death's release.

Judge Cooper, in her sentencing, lashed Dr. Kevorkian by stating he had asked society to try and stop him from his appointed rounds. She said, "Consider yourself stopped," and would not release him on bail during his appeal. Her expressed concern was that he would break the court's directives and engage in euthanasia while free.

Somehow, entirely out of context I am reminded of the movie Dirty Harry. In it, Clint Eastwood, asked why he was so sure the freed murderer of a little girl would continue to kill, replied through clenched teeth, "Because he likes it." Although I have great sympathy for what he's doing, feel the prison term was totally unfair, and in an ethical sense have the utmost respect for him, I'm not sure I'm doing Jack Kevorkian an injustice by tossing out that line. There is a dark side to his makeup I do not understand, his willingness to do the dirty work everyone else piously avoids. The ancient Greeks would have called him the usher to the Underworld and written fables about him, much as they did of Charon, the old man who ferried the dead across the Styx to Hades.

This is indeed a strange country, and we sometimes have a strange legal system. O J Simpson killed two people who did not want to die, and walked. William Clinton lied dishonorably through his teeth to the nation and the world. Lacking the decency and sense of honor to resign, blessed by a Senate unwilling to find him guilty in his impeachment proceedings, and still president, his greatest concern today is the Clinton historical legacy. Dr. Death did a suffering man a favor. Even though Thomas Youk had begged for assistance to end his life, Kevorkian's punishment will be to spend at least six years and eight months behind bars--unless he dies first.

While being led away to jail after sentencing, Kevorkian uttered one contemptuous word, "Justice!" Can we really blame him?


Sam Orr sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)