City Journal Autumn 2014

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Autumn 2014
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By Theodore Dalrymple

The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Eye on the News

Theodore Dalrymple
Avanti, Dr. Kevorkian!
There may be an overseas market for the doctor’s services.
12 June 2007

Selected Responses:

Sent by Thomas A. Bowden on 06-14-2007:

Dr. Jack Kevorkian's imprisonment was a great injustice. Dr. Kevorkian should be honored for his courageous stand in defense of the right of individuals suffering from devastating terminal diseases to end their lives with the assistance of a trusted doctor.

What lawmakers and judges must grasp is that there is no rational basis upon which the government can properly prevent an individual from choosing to end his own life. Our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means that we need no one's permission to live, and that no one may forcibly obstruct our efforts to achieve personal happiness.

But what if happiness becomes impossible to attain, due to a dread disease or some other calamity? The right to life includes and implies the right to commit suicide. To hold otherwise is to contradict the right to life at its root. If we have a duty to go on living, despite our better judgment, then our lives do not belong to us, and we exist by permission, not by right.

For these reasons, each individual has the right to decide the hour of his death and to implement that solemn decision as best he can. The choice is his because the life is his. And if a doctor is willing—not forced—to assist in the suicide, based on an objective assessment of his patient's mental and physical state, the law should not stand in his way.

It’s strange how even closely allied nations do not take advantage of one another’s complementary strengths and resources. For example, I noticed this month a possible synergy between the United States and Italy: neither, as far as I am aware, has tried in any way to take advantage of it.

Jack Kevorkian was released on June 1 from prison, after serving eight years of a sentence for second-degree murder. Kevorkian, popularly known as Dr. Death, is an enthusiast of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and sees himself in the same light as civil rights protesters in Alabama in the 1950s. That is as it may be: but anyone who reads his autobiography is bound to conclude, as some of his colleagues did, that he is rather odd.

Before he turned his attention to mercy killing, Kevorkian argued for a new branch of medicine—namely, physiological experimentation on those condemned to death and about to be executed. His oddity is suggested not merely by the proposal itself, but by his surprise that his colleagues did not jump at it, and instead condemned it roundly. He attributed their resistance to conservatism, this being a pejorative term, of course.

Now it so happens that on the very day on which Kevorkian went free, 310 prisoners in Italy, condemned to life imprisonment for murder, petitioned the Italian president, requesting the reinstatement of the death penalty. An imprisoned chief of the Sicilian Mafia, Carmelo Musumeci, was the prime mover behind the petition, which read in part: “We ask that our life sentences be transformed into a death sentence. Our life is totally useless and means infinite suffering: a sentence that makes the future the same as the past, a past that crushes the present and eliminates any hope for the future.”

Surely there is an opportunity here for international cooperation of the best kind? It has long seemed paradoxical that many of those most strenuously opposed to the death penalty most fervently favor euthanasia, and not always the voluntary kind. It is seldom that such an ideological paradox can so neatly be resolved.

Avanti, Dr. Kevorkian! You have new worlds to conquer, especially since a condition of your parole is to take no part in euthanasia or assisted suicide. A change of jurisdictions would be just the thing. And I am sure that Signor Musumeci, as a small token of appreciation for being put out of his misery, would be happy to be experimented upon.

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