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bullet Death with vanity

Debra J. Saunders

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

THERE IS TRUE ROT in a state that regards those who want to kill the sick as more compassionate than those who want to treat the sick, but that is what the state California could become -- rotten -- if the Sacramento enacts a measure that would legalize physician-assisted suicide.

Assembly member Patty Berg, D-Eureka, is working on a bill, modeled on Oregon's assisted-suicide law, for California. Why? Her husband died of a stroke in 1987, she told The Chronicle, and "had he survived the stroke, he would not have been able to swallow on his own. I know he would have begged me to hasten his death. And, of course, I would have done it."

I called Berg to discuss her measure, but she could not get back to me by my deadline.

Oncologist H. Rex Greene, medical director of the Dorothy E. Schneider Cancer Center in Burlingame, bristled at Berg's assessment. "It ridiculously oversimplifies the details of decision-making in end-of-life care," he said. If a stroke victim was massively disabled and made it clear that he wanted no artificial feeding, no care on a machine, "that person can refuse feeding and hydration: End of story," he said.

But that's not assisted suicide. There is a world of difference between refusing extraordinary care -- a basic right -- and asking a doctor to give you poison. That's why the California Medical Association has opposed assisted suicide.

Oh, but boosters will tell you that the compassionate thing is to support a change in the law to accommodate helpless patients consumed by pain. Such horror stories twice have led Oregon voters to approve assisted-suicide ballot measures.

Yet the 171 people known to have used medical assistance to end their lives under the Oregon law since 1997 don't fit the profile of the helpless and pain-wracked patient sold to Oregon voters, Greene noted. Only 22 percent listed fear of inadequate pain control as their reason for choosing suicide. More telling -- 87 percent cited fear of losing autonomy.

As Linda Ganzini of the Oregon Health & Science University told the New York Times, the fear that led to most of the assisted-suicides wasn't inadequate care but "for them, the real problem is the people taking care of you."

So while advocates talk about helping people who otherwise might choke to death, the real issue is personal control. These people think they would rather die than lose control; they'd rather die than depend on help from others. So they hide behind the sick as they try to change the rules of medicine -- when no law prevents them from simply buying a gun.

"The p-word is not 'pain;' the p-word is 'pride', " Oregon oncologist Kenneth Stevens told the New York Times. "Rather than being death with dignity, it's death with vanity."

As an oncologist, Greene said, he has had a dozen patients ask him for help to end their lives. With one sad exception, Greene was able to find out what their concerns were and address them. For example, when a patient explained she had been fighting with her daughter, Greene talked to the daughter, mother and daughter reconciled and the woman died a natural death, free from pain. "But if you live in Oregon," he said, "they say come back in two weeks'' -- after the 15 day waiting period, to get the lethal dose of medicine.

And get this statement on Oregon's assisted suicide from Dr. Marcia Angell, former executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, to the New York Times: "I am concerned that too few people are requesting it. It seems to me that more would do it. The purpose of a law is to be used not to sit there on the books."

Hmmmm. Not enough people in Oregon are killing themselves?

Something must be done. What are all those sick people doing clinging to life when they should be deleting themselves? What Oregon oncologist Stevens called vanity, Angell told the Times, "somebody else might call admirable independence."

The worst of it is, I said to Greene, people see Angell and Berg as more compassionate than you are.

"I run a palliative-care facility," Greene responded. "We do the heavy- lifting." That is, healing people, relieving their pain and caring about them.

Not killing them.

Note: My husband, Wesley J. Smith, is a consultant to the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.

Page B - 7

Debra J Saunders
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Death with vanity

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Seems that behind bars, Kevorkian has learned life is sweet  
By Debra J. Saunders

bullet WHY is Jack Kevorkian still alive?

The assisted-suicide enthusiast, who says he helped some 130 people kill themselves, is in prison for the 1998 murder of Thomas Youk, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease. While Kevorkian says that he never actively killed anyone before Youk he instead helped the afflicted kill themselves the death doc personally injected Youk with poison in 1998 and videotaped the procedure so it could be aired on "60 Minutes.'

Kevorkian said at the time that he killed Youk on camera because he wanted to challenge Michigan's assisted-suicide law. He told the Oakland Press of Michigan he wanted a "showdown': "I want to be prosecuted for euthanasia. I am going to prove that this is not a crime, ever, regardless of what words are written on paper.'

As the saying goes: Be careful what you wish for. Kevorkian got his trial and to his surprise, a jury convicted him of second-degree murder and sentenced him to 10 to 25 years behind bars. Kevorkian promptly threatened to go on a hunger strike in prison. After prison authorities announced they would not force-feed the death doc, presto change-o, he decided to eat. And live.

Now, after losing appeals, Kevorkian's attorney Mayer Morganroth is asking Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to pardon Kevorkian or commute his sentence. According to the Detroit Free Press, Morganroth cites Kevorkian's health problems high blood pressure, arthritis, hernias, hepatitis C, cataracts, heart disease, adrenal insufficiency suggestive of Addison's disease and lung disease as cause for Granholm to release Kevorkian from the slammer.

The irony here is that, before prison, Kevorkian saw the above as reason to release others from the mortal coil. While he likes to portray himself as a man who helped terminally ill people to die, many of his victims were not terminal, and it's not clear that some were particularly ill. His first victim, Janet Adkins, had early Alzheimer's disease, but she was 54 and fit enough to play tennis days before she visited Kevorkian's death van.

If Kevorkian, now 76, felt comfortable helping a fiftysomething tennis player pull her plug, surely he should regard his own poor health as deserving the ultimate remedy what he dubbed "medicide.' Explaining why his early victims were women, Kevorkian once explained that females are "far more realistic about facing death and have got the guts to do it.'

According to the Oakland Press, Morganroth said Kevorkian doesn't expect his client to live "more than a year.' Truth be told, Team Kevorkian has a bit of a credibility problem. An appeals brief claims that Kevorkian injected Youk not so much to kill Youk as to relieve his pain. Bunk.

This is choice: The brief sought an appeal because Kevorkian had incompetent counsel advising him. (Kevorkian served as his own lawyer but had attorneys advising him.) Now, according to Morganroth's brief, Kevorkian "was under the impression that he was represented by counsel throughout the trial.'

Again, if Kevorkian is senile and sickly, shouldn't he be asking for deliverance instead of a commutation?

Think: Kevorkian has piled up 130 corpses. He helped kill people without really knowing their medical condition. He extolled the virtues of "death with dignity.' When Michigan passed laws to prevent the carnage, he continued to participate in assisted suicides, even experimenting with sick new twists, such as the time he removed kidneys from a corpse ostensibly for transplantation, except no real doctor would touch those butchered parts.

Now, Kevorkian's lawyer says he should be free because he is sick. There is no talk of "death with dignity.' There is no talk of quality-of-life issues. There is no insistence on autonomy. To the contrary, while Kevorkian thought others should die if they lacked freedom of movement, he has survived some five years in prison.

When you're Jack Kevorkian, life is sweet. Even behind bars.

-- E-mail San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders at .


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