Breaking the Law Because it was His Duty

Many feel the law of the land should be abided by at all cost, but should the law be abided by at the expense of an individual’s suffering?

Dr. Jack Kevorkian was born in 1928, and he was known by many as “Dr. Death” due to his stances on euthanasia. Euthanasia was translated from a Greek word, and the approximate translation is “good death.” Euthanasia is frequently defined by its supporters as helping an individual who is suffering to die with dignity and without suffering. Many consider it to be a merciful thing to do.

Many people have issues with euthanasia, or as many call it, mercy killing, because of morality aspects. Many feel that it goes against God, and some feel that euthanizing patients is an attempt to play God. Well, let me present this question: When you attempt to cure someone who is sick instead of letting the immune system deal with the disease naturally, aren’t you playing God by your own logic?

Dr. Jack Kevorkian took a different approach to this issue, and in my opinion, a much more logical one. Dr. Kevorkian considered the right to die to be a basic personal right that had nothing to do with laws of the government. If there comes a time when a suffering patient expresses a desire to die, then it is the physican’s duty to grant the patient’s wishes, according to Dr. Kevorkian.

When Kevorkian witnessed the suffering of terminally ill patients, this convinced him that they had a moral right to end their lives once the pain became unbearable, and that doctors should assist in this process. He eventually designed and constructed a machine that started a harmless saline intravenous drip into the arm of a person wishing to to be euthanized. When the patient was ready, he or she would press a button that would stop the flow of the harmless solution and begin a new drip of thiopental. This chemical would cause the patient to fall into a deep sleep, then a coma. After one minute, the timer in the machine would disperse a lethal dose of potassium chloride into the patient’s arm, thus causing the heart to stop within minutes. The patient would quickly, painlessly, and easily die of a heart attack while in a deep sleep, according to Kevorkian.

Dr. Kevorkian eventually faced murder charges in 1994, but jurors agreed with the argument that there was no statute against assisted suicide in the state of Michigan, and thus Kevorkian could not be found guilty.

Dr. Kevorkian’s team of defense lawyers won yet another acquittal. They successfully argued that a person may not be found guilty of criminally assisting a suicide if that person had administered medication with the intentions of relieving pain and suffering, even it if did hasten the risk of dying. Kevorkian was prosecuted four times in Michigan for assisted suicides, and he was acquitted in three of those cases; the fourth case was declared a mistrial.

The Michigan legislature enacted a law that made assisted suicide a felony punishable by a maximum five year prison sentence or a $10,000 fine. A law went into effect months prior to a ballot proposition legalizing assisted suicide being defeated by Michigan voters. This closed the loophole on relief of pain and suffering, which Kevorkian’s lawyer’s relied upon to obtain acquittals. This statute provides that a person who is aware of another person’s intentions to kill himself and proceeds to provide the means, participate in the suicide, or help to plan the suicide, is guilty of a felony.

All things considered, Dr. Kevorkian proceeded with what he felt was right. He challenged authorities to arrest and prosecute him, and he took the ultimate step in the assisted suicide of Thomas Youk when instead of asking the patient to press the button that would inject a lethal dose of drugs into the patients system, Kevorkian proceeded to do so himself after speaking gently to the man suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Kevorkian was eventually arrested in Michigan for first-degree murder. In this case, when he injected the patient with the lethal drugs, he committed euthansia, or mercy killing, not assisted suicide. Kevorkian faced an additional charge under the felony law that bans assisted suicide, and this went into effect approximately two weeks before the Lou Gherig’s disease patient’s death. Kevorkian decided to represent himself in the murder trial. He was convicted of the lesser offense of second degree murder by a Michigan jury March 26, 1999.

Kevorkian continues his campaign for legalized physician-assisted suicides. He felt that through his practices he was doing his best for patients who were terminally ill and suffering great discomfort. Kevorkian raised national awareness of assisted suicide and forced the courts and legislatures to make decisions on this controversial issue, and I applaud him for his courage and dedication. I fully agree that the right to die is a basic personal right.

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