Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The return of Dr Death

If there are two things which divide people in this country or any other country, it's the beginning of life and the end of it. Dr Jack Kervorkian, of course, became infamous for his approach to the end of life. I still remember when he first gained national attention appearing on Donahue, in fact I remember the very episode where he announced he was taking lethal injections from the death house to the operating room. He claims to have helped 130 people die, either via injection or carbon monoxide poisoning. In each of those cases, he just provided the means to the end for it was the dying patient who "presed the button."

But it was one case where he actively euthanized a patient with Lou Gehrig's Disease, Thomas Youk, that finally crossed the line. Kervorkian was convicted of murder two and got 10 to 25. Tonight, we've learned he'll be paroled after serving just eight years.

End of life issues have always been tough for me, particularly since I've lost both my mother and an aunt to cancer. On the one hand, I can undrrstand fully the need to end needless suffering and that some patients just don't want to put up with the agony anymore. On the other, as a Roman Catholic, I always worry whether any such decision has an element of coercion involved. And the fact is, while I appreciate the point Kervorkian was trying to make I had a very hard time with his modus operandi. There is a fine line between mercy and compassion; but the problem is that Kervorkian never really demonstrated either. He was a smooth operator in for the cash, no more or less.

So, bad health or not, I really can't agree with Kervorkian being released from jail. It's not like he committed crimes of passion. He knew exactly what he was doing, and as such should continue to be in the custody of the state until he finishes his sentence -- when he turns 95.

The big crisis facing health care systems will be the aging population and how to deal with them. Do we just write them off as dispensible? Or do we expand the system of long term care, including nursing homes and hospices? And of course, palliative care will always be an issue with all age groups since sudden health emergencies can happen at any age. Having him released only complicates the issue, and this is one punch line I'm not looking forward to on the next Air Farce.

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