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You Really Don't Know Jack

A Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

"You Don't Know Jack" is the perfect title for the upcoming HBO biopic starring Al Pacino as Death Doc Jack Kevorkian -- because it is clear that many of Kevorkian's fawning interviewers don't know much about Jack.

Fox News' Neil Cavuto, for example, last week introduced Kevorkian as a "Michigan physician who claims to have assisted in the suicides of at least 130 terminally ill people from 1990 to 1998."

Physician? Not the kind who treats patients. Kevorkian was a pathologist until his medical license was yanked in 1991. In 1999, a Michigan jury convicted him of second-degree murder after he gave a lethal injection to Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.

As for the risible notion that his victims were terminally ill, well, it collapses in the harsh light of a New England Journal of Medicine analysis of the autopsies of 69 Kevorkian cases in Oakland County, Mich. The report found that three-quarters of Kevorkian's "patients" were not terminally ill. Indeed, five showed no evidence of disease.

That's right, folks, he engaged in what Cavuto called "mercy killings" for healthy people. President Obama cannot be happy that Kevorkian gave a quasi-endorsement of ObamaCare on Cavuto's show. "The death panel makes it sound so negative," he grimaced.

In the same hour, Kevorkian spoke up for Michael Jackson's doctor, as he dryly observed, "The patient got what he wanted."

If Cavuto says so himself, Kevorkian made for "a very insightful and at times convoluted interview." But what's truly convoluted is the glorification of Kevorkian as an agent of "mercy." Where is the mercy in telling vulnerable people that they should want to die?

The issue here is not whether patients should be forced to endure treatments they don't want, as patients do and should have the right to refuse unwanted treatment.

But death-doc fans should not be so enamored with their iconic image of stoic patients nearing death without fear that they fail to notice that some of Kevorkian's victims were not even sick, or that those who were ill might be vulnerable individuals more in need of true mercy -- loving care -- than a shove out the door.

The high ratio of female "patients" -- 71 percent of his Oakland County menage -- bares the sort of Blanche DuBois ("I've always depended on the kindness of strangers") flavor of the act.

Kevorkian said he helped dispatch his first "patient," Janet Adkins, 54, in 1990 because she "had a wonderful life, a good life, but the quality of her life was slipping away due to an incurable disease and she didn't want to suffer." Yes, she had early Alzheimer's, but she was well enough to play tennis days before her demise.

Meanwhile, Kevorkian, 81, has been in such poor health -- read: high blood pressure, arthritis, hernias, hepatitis C, heart disease, Addison's disease and lung disease -- that when he was paroled in 2007, his lawyer didn't think the death doc would live "more than a year." And yet he endures. No doubt because life -- at least for Kevorkian -- is precious.

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