It’s been awhile since Jack Kevorkian’s name has attracted media attention. In fact, with the exception of a few random euthanasia references here and there, I had nearly forgotten about the old doctor completely. I did think about him during the Terry Schiavo ordeal in 2005 and how strongly he must have felt about that trial.

This Friday, June 1sst 2007, Kevorkian will be paroled from a prison near Coldwater, Michigan after more than eight years behind bars. “Dr. Death” was convicted of second-degree murder charges for the assisted suicide of Thomas Youk. Although Kevorkian had admittedly been involved in over 130 suicides prior to Youk’s, this was his first conviction.

His method for killing Youk was particularly different than the other cases in that Kevorkian himself injected his patient with a lethal dose. Before this event Kevorkian had always let the patients push a button to deliver the drug themselves, thus not directly implicating himself in the person’s death. Strangely, Kevorkian also chose to videotape Youk’s death, and later allowed it to air on 60 Minutes, where he taunted authorities to try and stop him from assisting suicides.

Kevorkian received the nickname “Dr Death” after publishing a paper, which described the cessation of blood circulation within the retina just before imminent death. Throughout his medical career Kevorkian was fascinated, if not somewhat obsessed with death. He was asked to terminate his residency at the University of Michigan after he suggested performing experiments on inmates during executions.

Death itself is a strange topic. It is inevitable, yet almost everyone has a deep-seeded fear of it. Most people will do just about anything to slip out of the icy had of the reaper and tales of unbelievable survival are regarded with the utmost reverence and respect. Perhaps that is why it is very difficult for many people to grasp the fact that there is a time when it is OK to let go.

Why is it that we find it so difficult to let others make decisions about their own lives? Might we look at it as through the eyes of a parent protecting their child from making a horrible mistake? Or perhaps we see it as an officer upholding a law despite the emotional and conscious hang-ups that are tearing him up inside.

It is not easy for a person to decide whether or not to play God with someone else’s life. But Kevorkian never made that decision. His patients always came to him. They were of sound mind when they made their decision. In Oregon, the only state to currently allow assisted suicide, patients must make one written request accompanied by two verbal ones. It surely cannot be an easy decision for someone to end his or her life but with true freedom comes the right to make that choice.

The notion that choosing to die is a sin goes back (at least) to biblical times.

(1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV) [19] Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; [20] you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
(1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV) [16] Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? [17] If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God and his temple are sacred, and you are that temple.

And so, when this interpretation is taken literally, the value of pain and suffering that accompanies life on this world diminishes. In its place grows only the hope that there is something much more grand and important just out of sight- something which we are not capable of ever attaining in this lifetime.

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