Jack Kevorkian, the man known by wide consensus as Dr. Death, died a painless one Friday in his home state of Michigan. Having always assumed that I supported his point of view, I never really looked very deeply into Kevorkian's activities, but upon his passing decided to check out Barry Levinson's You Don't Know Jack and do a little reading up on the man.
You Don't Know Jack, which stars Al Pacino as the man who helped at least 130 people over to the other side, has to be the worst titled movie ever about a serious issue. Shockingly, after watching the film and a couple of vintage interviews, it appears that Pacino, an actor who never met scenery that he was unwilling to chew, seems to have actually underplayed the man.
Kevorkian, though he ran for Congress in 2008, was by no means much of a politician. He was, in fact, clearly a full-fledged zealot, with zero interest in parsing his words or his meaning. He knew that he was mostly opposed by fundamentalist Christians and had little interest in showing any understanding for the other side of the battle he fought. Every time Kevorkian went on trial, he was likely compared to a Nazi, and Kevorkian made it clear that the feeling was mutual.
Kevorkian was an odd bird and it's not surprising that Jack was produced by one of the same men who brought us The People vs. Larry Flynt, another story of a man who was more than happy to see his day in court. Perhaps the most surprising thing that I garnered from Jack was just how edgy Kevorkian's willingness to provide the kill switch was. Although the film shows cases that Kevorkian rejected, the very first assisted suicide, which took place in the back of his VW bus, is of a woman with Alzheimer's who seems to be remarkably lucid and not necessarily in any obvious daily discomfort. Despite my leaning towards Kevorkian's side of the issue, I can't say that I would have been comfortable making the same decisions he made.
Nevertheless, Kevorkian, who never charged any money for his services, seemed to thrive on the spotlight and even contributed to the overall sense of the macabre with a fledgling art career that was as obsessed with pain and death as his full-time job.
It was a messy calling. Although I agree with the man, I
wouldn't want to be Dr. Death and I'm not even sure how I would react to a
loved one searching out America's final doctor. It's such an ugly issue
that I'm not altogether sure who should be writing the ultimate laws that will
decide these issues once and for all.
Watching old tape of Kevorkian, it's clear that he never gave these issues a second thought and proudly went to jail for what he believed in, after he was convicted of the second degree murder of Thomas Youk, an ALS patient who Kevorkian not only assisted but lethally injected, an act he followed up with a prompt delivery of a videotape of the act to the television show 60 Minutes.
Oddly enough, Kevorkian was released from prison in 2007 after serving eight years, with a terminal diagnosis of his own. Given less than a year to live, Kevorkian outlasted his death sentence and was never in need of the services he was once so proud to administer.