Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the medical pathologist who helped dozens of terminally ill people kill themselves, becoming the central figure in a national drama surrounding assisted suicide, died on Friday in a Detroit-area hospital. He was 83.That case was eventually broadcast on 60 Minutes in the late 90's (something I taped and have used in class periodically over the years). In checking Twitter this morning, 60 Minutes announced it has made the story with Mike Wallace available for online viewing (along with the update they did together after Kevorkian was released from prison in 2007).
Dr. Kevorkian challenged social taboos about disease and dying, willfully defying prosecutors and the courts as he actively sought national celebrity. He spent eight years in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder in the death of the last of the more than 100 terminally ill patients whose lives he helped end.
I am embedding the 1998 video (with the warning that it may be disturbing to some viewers) because of its importance. Over the past 12 years, whenever I've shown the clip, it has never failed to generate intense discussion among students. And while Kevorkian was perhaps not the warmest and fuzziest face advocating for physician-assisted suicide, his warnings concerning an aging population, the costs of end-of-life care, and right to die with dignity have become more and more prescient.
The terminally ill patient is, of course, the easiest case for which we can make an argument regarding assisted suicide. But as Kevorkian preached for more than 20 years, it's an issue society must confront sooner rather than later for all of us.