Jack Kevorkian's movement has done better without him.
What do cicadas have in common with Jack Kevorkian? They share a cacophonous anniversary. In June, after 17 years, cicadas are expected to crawl from underground across the Midwest. These grim insects produce such a din that just one can overpower other sounds. Also in June, exactly 17 years after he first made international headlines for assisting the suicide of 54-year-old Janet Adkins, Jack Kevorkian is scheduled to emerge from prison. Already, his release has become a media circus, likely soon to produce a din of its own.
Kevorkian's release may actually be bad news for assisted-suicide advocacy. Since his imprisonment for the 1998 murder of Thomas Youk, advocates for assisted-suicide legalization have strived mightily to put a benign, professional veneer on the hard business of authorizing doctors to intentionally participate in the termination of their patients' lives. With Kevorkian in prison, his gaunt visage was no longer the public face of the movement. Today's activists are far more likely to be impeccably dressed, upper middle class women who spout focus-group-vetted sound bites. (Hence the effort by the former Hemlock Society--renamed Compassion & Choices--to convince the media to drop the descriptive term "assisted suicide" for the pabulum phrase "aid in dying.")
Contemporary advocates also have worked hard to make assisted suicide appear bland. The so-called "medical model" permitted by Oregon's Death with Dignity law has been ubiquitously touted in recent years by assisted-suicide promoters as an approach to mercy killing that can avoid a Kevorkian-style slippery slope. Legalization bills have been repeatedly filed in Hawaii, Vermont (where legislators killed them), and California, which is in the midst of its fourth political battle in eight years over assisted-suicide legalization.
But with Kevorkian soon to appear on 60 Minutes and in other high-profile media venues, the assisted-suicide movement will find it much harder to conceal the many similarities between Dr. Death's approach during the 1990s and the legalized Kevorkianism being carried out in Oregon today.
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