Death with dignity good idea despite spokesman

Jack Kevorkian, infamously known as “Dr. Death,” was released from prison Friday and is already preparing to embrace a role as a pro-euthanasia spokesman. Unfortunately, his eccentric and often disturbing ideas may do more harm than good to the pro-euthanasia argument.

According to a recent article in the National Review Online, Kevorkian is scheduled to appear on 60 Minutes for an interview with euthanasia proponent Mike Wallace. The article also discusses Kevorkian’s disturbing fascination with the idea of scientific experimentation on living human beings, particularly terminal cases, which severely undercuts the pro-euthanasia argument for compassion and dignity. This discomfiting tidbit, as well as the undisputable fact that Kevorkian worked outside the law to achieve his ends, makes him a poor spokesman for the movement.

This is a shame, because despite the publicity generated by Kevorkian’s case, the pro-euthanasia movement has gained little ground since his arrest, and could certainly use a prominent spokesperson. Denver-based Compassion & Choices seems to have the right idea, as they use Dr. Death as an example of precisely what they don’t want in society. According to their Web site, they “(work) to decriminalize aid in dying and eliminate the covert, unregulated practices that currently exist.”

This cause, though hotly debated, has widespread support. According to a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll, 48 percent of Americans surveyed support legal aid in dying for the terminally ill, versus 44 percent opposed. Pro-euthanasia has even had its own success story with the Oregon Death With Dignity Act.

Enacted on Oct. 27, 1997, the act “allows terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.” Naturally, the results of this law have been highly scrutinized, but despite the fears of abuse and excess, fewer than 300 people have employed the right to die. Clearly, people are thinking carefully before making such a decision.

That’s right, a decision. Every aspect of a person’s life involves making decisions, but in this case, prevailing wisdom claims that this decision should be taken away from individuals. It’s a strange contradiction in a country that presumably champions personal freedom. Certainly the legalization of euthanasia is subject to abuse, and must be carefully monitored, but the right to choose to die with dignity rather than suffer needless debilitating pain leading to an inevitable death is a choice all Americans deserve to make for themselves.