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Jack Kevorkian

spectrum of human existence from conception through death. I think that any arbitrary legal constriction of that relevance is irrational, cruel, and barbaric.

David: How has euthanasia been viewed throughout history?

Dr. Kevorkian: Medical euthanasia was honorable and widely practiced in ancient Hippocratic Greece but later criminalized by the Church. The Renaissance philosopher-scientist Francis Bacon advocated that “the medical profession should be permitted to ease and quicken death where the end would be otherwise only delayed for a few days and at the cost of great pain.”

In seventeenth-century England Sir Edward Coke, a distinguished lawyer and judge, dismissed charges against a physician who openly performed euthanasia. It was Coke’s dictum that “how long soever it hath continued, if it be against reason, it is of no force in law.” Accordingly, the long-continued criminalization of euthanasia is of no force because it is flagrantly against reason.

Almost two centuries later Thomas Jefferson advocated the use of a drug to end the terminal suffering from “the inveterate cancer.” In 1910 Mark Twain asked his physician to end his suffering from heart disease. Dr. Sigmund Freud’s terminal agony, and also in 1936 that of England’s King George V, ended with injections by their personal physicians, both vociferous advocates of the practice. The late distinguished American physician and author Dr. Walter Alvarez several decades ago published his strong endorsement of medical euthanasia.

Today more than half of all American physicians and an overwhelming majority of the public favor decriminalization of the practice, and a significant number of physicians admit to performing it furtively. The British will no long prosecute doctors. The state of Oregon has permitted a limited form of aid in dying through ill-advised, overly restrictive legislation. It appears that the state of Maine may soon do the same. These state laws prohibit the most humane and preferable method of ending pain and suffering with a lethal injection.

The Constitutional Court in the predominantly Catholic nation Colombia in 1997 declared simply and correctly that access to medical euthanasia is a right of the people. The Netherlands has now formally decriminalized euthanasia after two or more decades of having permitted the practice within carefully set guidelines. It is also allowed in Switzerland, Germany, and Uruguay, and may soon be legalized in Catholic Belgium and France, and in Japan. One must wonder why the English-speaking countries lag in this humanitarian trend.

David: Why do you think that the U.S. government and medical establishment are so opposed to euthanasia–despite the fact that eighty percent of the public support a patient’s right to die?

Dr. Kevorkian: I think that the U.S. government, medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies are opposed to euthanasia for monetary or financial reasons. And, also, this view against PAD (physician assistance in dying) is supported by many churches and religious extremists.

David: What are your thoughts about how the availability of euthanasia might prolong the lives of terminally-ill patients?

Dr. Kevorkian: The mere availability of the euthanasia option often improves the quality of, and even prolongs, the lives of many terminal and incurably suffering patients. Having such a choice seems to dissipate the panic and helplessness by assuring a modicum of personal control. Consequently the vast majority of patients went on to die “naturally” and with few complaints despite continued excruciating suffering. This was the case with most patients who contacted me.

David: How do you envision euthanasia being put into practice by physicians?

Dr: Kevorkian: Not all physicians will want or, by temperament, be able to perform euthanasia. For them and for patients alike it’s a matter of free choice based on personal belief, faith, or philosophy of life. The service should be a kind of medical specialty staffed by experienced and competent practitioners to whom reticent colleagues may refer inquiries. Because medical guidelines change frequently as a result of research and clinical experience, such procedural details cannot be dictated by law.

David: What do you personally think happens to consciousness after death?

Dr: Kevorkian: No living being in this world knows exactly and certainly–indeed even faintly–what absolute physical death is. One can only know that it occurred. Despite impressive philosophical and religious mythologizing, as well as the anecdotal buncombe called near-death experiences, nobody has ever survived absolute death. At present that survival would offer the only (but now inaccessible) means of gaining reliable and certain knowledge about it.

David: Many people are unaware that you wrote a diet book in 1978, which you later revised and included in your book GlimmerIQs. What sort of suggestions would you make for improving one’s diet?

Dr: Kevorkian: It is well known that animals generally take their daily food quota by many small feedings, in contrast to a limited number of large meals for most civilized humans. Extensive research on animals has shown that the ingestion of their daily food in five separate portions had a salutary effect on blood cholesterol levels and the development of arterial atherosclerosis.

Even though the single feeders (one large meal a day) ate thirty percent less, their bodies were slightly larger and had a higher percentage of fat when compared to the slightly smaller bodies of multiple feeders (nibblers) having gained relatively heavier muscle mass. It has been estimated that fifty to seventy-five percent of daily human food intake is at the single meal called supper, which alone may account for our tendency to be fatter and flabbier.

David: What sort of recommendations would you make regarding exercise?

Dr: Kevorkian: Your chosen exercise should fit in well with your own lifestyle, one that you can do throughout life, and that is independent of weather conditions. An indoor activity of some kind would be preferable, perhaps your own individual routine not involving anyone else or any group, institution, or club. Some forms of exercise are considered to be especially beneficial to health by enhancing cardio-respiratory reserve. Exercise involving the legs is said to be more effective in that regard than is exercising the arms or trunk. Jogging, tennis, bicycling, and jumping rope are excellent ways to build up that reserve, but not all of them can be continued uninterruptedly year round without inconvenience.

David: What are your thoughts on personal freedom, and why do you think that Amendment IX to the Constitution is so important?

Dr. Kevorkian: I think that every human being is born with the lifelong, powerful, unalterable, essentially instinctual will or drive to absolute personal freedom. Of course, for a smoothly functioning, civilized community that absolute drive must be tempered through the judicious modulating effect of so-called relative rights essentially consisting of commonsense rules elaborated for the optimization of harmonious communal existence, and codified by means of wide-ranging, if not universal, public consensus.

The full power of natural rights is latent in Amendment IX of the Bill of Rights. Much of the bitter controversy and often bloody violence fostered by highly controversial issues throughout history could have been ameliorated or averted if responsible authorities had done their duty by tapping the trove that the Ninth offers. The point is well exemplified by the passionate battles over medical abortion (or the choice not to bear life) and medical euthanasia (or the choice not to live intolerably suffering).

David: What are your thoughts about the future of Western medicine?

Dr. Kevorkian: I’m optimistic that Western medicine will advance and start accepting newer and more progressive ideas, as well as, of course, the importance of choice on end of life issues such as death with dignity. I’m also hopeful that we’ll develop more appropriate organ transplant strategies. And this is coming—slowly but surely, both medical services with proper oversights will be available in the future. The Europeans are already leading the way.

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