Sunday, June 03, 2007
Art Caplan on Dr. Death's release and legacy
- I believed Kevorkian was a very dangerous killer [in 1994], and I still believe it now. He helped dozens of depressed and disabled people die without trying very hard to convince them to live.
- Kevorkian believes in suicide on demand. He thinks that doctors have an obligation to help anyone who decides that their life is not worth living, whatever their reason. Some of the 130 people he helped die had no terminal illnesses. Some were clearly depressed. Others had histories of mental illness. Only a few got any counseling. Kevorkian helped them all to die.
- Kevorkian’s problem was and is that he likes death way too much. The enthusiasm he brought to his cause was always deeply troubling. No doubts, no ambivalence, ever seemed to cross his mind as he dispatched his victims. The fact that he helped some to die within hours of meeting them, the fact that he would turn a disabled man’s death into a national spectacle by giving a tape of his murder to "60 Minutes" — never mind that they used it! — and the fact that he never seemed to try particularly hard to talk those who came to him out of their decision to die made him morally suspect then and hardly worth hearing from now.
As Caplan points out, the carefully crafted Oregon Death with Dignity Act has resulted in relatively few actual suicides, while at the same time providing the encouragement to develop more effective (and available) palliative care programs. On balance, I am still against legalizing physician-assisted-suicide, but public opinion is slowly swinging in favor of legalization and Oregon has demonstrated that, at least in a state like Oregon, it's possible to avoid the abuses that people like me have worried about.