The New York Times, in a 2,128-word obituary (nearly three times the length of this article), fondly recalled Jack Kevorkian as “A Doctor Who Helped End Lives.”  Kevorkian, 83, the Michigan pathologist turned assisted-suicide activist, died in a hospital, a more dignified locale than the 1960’s-era Volkswagen microbus where he uncorked the Thanatron, his suicide machine, dispensing a fatal chemical cocktail.  Kevorkian assisted in about 130 suicides—most of them women—from 1990 to 1998.  Kevorkian’s modus operandi was to leave the bodies in a public place; a telephone call to authorities would then lead to a macabre discovery and the media attention he craved.  Yet in the end, the media contributed to Kevorkian’s downfall.  In 1999 he was convicted of second-degree murder after sending CBS’s 60 Minutes a videotape that showed him killing a patient.  The tape aired on national TV, leading to the successful prosecution of Kevorkian and a 10-to-25-year prison sentence.  He was released in 2007 only after pledging not to assist in another suicide.

Kevorkian’s death was an occasion for secular editorialists to point out that assisted suicide is now legal in Oregon, Washington, and Montana.  Yet the practice remains illegal in Michigan, largely because of the unreported role of Catholic Democrats in that state’s legislature in the 1990’s.  Oakland County, where Kevorkian plied his trade, was my residence for 12 years, including six I spent in the Michigan legislature.  The legislature took action when it became clear that Kevorkian intended to continue assisting suicides.  After Kevorkian first assisted a suicide, a county judge enjoined him.  He pressed on, leading the state board of medicine to revoke his license.  That didn’t stop him, so in 1992 the legislature passed a four-year ban, which was signed by Republican Gov. John Engler.  The ban was declared unconstitutional by judges in the circuit and appellate courts but upheld in 1994 by the Michigan Supreme Court.  Kevorkian was prosecuted four times from 1994 to 1997, but prosecutors could not win a conviction in white-collar Oakland County, which at the time had a per capita income that was 150 percent of the U.S. average, the highest in Michigan.  Three trials ended in acquittals; a fourth, in a mistrial.  Editorialists cite Richard Thompson, the Oakland County prosecutor, in arguing that the public supports assisted suicide.  Kevorkian supporters contend the prosecutions cost Thompson public office in the county’s 1996 Republican primary.  Thompson later converted to Catholicism and has cited Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium vitae and Veritatis splendor.  Kevorkian supporters ignore the trouncing of Kevorkian’s attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, by Governor Engler (a pro-life Catholic) in the 1998 gubernatorial race.  Michigan voters defeated the proposed Assisted Suicide Act 71 to 29 percent in the same general election.  Kevorkian received only 2.6 percent as an independent in a 2008 congressional bid.  Kevorkian’s supporters also ignore the reelection of Catholic Democrats who took decisive action to end assisted suicide.

Catholic Democrats representing blue-collar constituencies sponsored legislation banning assisted suicide each year from 1992 to 1996.  Leaders included Reps. Joseph Palamara (Downriver Detroit) and Nick Ciaramitaro (Macomb County).  One vote on assisted suicide occurred on December 3, 1994, in the Michigan House, when Palamara used parliamentary procedure—the rarely successful discharge motion—to advance a ban from the Judiciary Committee, where it sat.  The House index described the ban as follows: “CRIMES.  Homicide.  Assisted suicides, prohibition.”  Nineteen Democrats and 39 Republicans led by Palamara advanced the ban.  The Democrats who stood for reelection in 1996 were all successful.

Anyone who wishes to understand Kevorkian should review the 1997 multipart investigation by Kirk Cheyfitz in the Detroit Free Press.  The series found Kevorkian “consistently violated most of the rules and standards” that he claimed to follow.  “There was no psychiatric exam in at least 19 Kevorkian suicides,” the Free Press reported, “including several in which friends or family had responded that the patient was despondent over matters other than health.”  The same number died less than 24 hours after first meeting “Dr. Death.”  At least 17 patients were not referred to a pain specialist and received “only a brief summary of the attending physician’s prognosis.”

Kevorkian advanced “planned death” (euthanasia) in his own oeuvre, terming it “the last fearsome taboo.”  He proposed giving condemned murderers the option of anesthetic execution to allow the harvesting of their healthy organs, an idea he developed as far back as 1958, in a paper to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Kevorkian, a physician, was oblivious to the history of modern secular regimes.  They didn’t limit their killings to convicts.  They extended them to harvesting fetal body parts.

The suicides assisted by Jack Kevorkian were by one man’s design, not examples of death with dignity.