Today's news: Jack Kevorkian walked out if jail after serving 8 yeas for assisting the suicide of a man with ALS. And yes, I am aware that by the letter of the law he committed murder, because the patient was unable to flip the switches himself. But no, I never thought he should serve prison time for it.
I certainly understand the viewpoint of those who did think he deserved to go to jail. Even burn in hell.
I have a different perspective of it. I still sometimes sting from his actions, yet wrapped around that stinging sensation is a bit of gratitude.
When I was editing Martial Artists Wired, I wrote a piece about a guy named Bill, titled Closing The Door in March 1998. You can go read it in its entirety, or just this snippet:
While actively posting on some boards and lurking on others, I came to know a gentle soul, one who took great pains to not become one of us who was quick to throw the slings and arrows of war, one who would welcome newcomers without fail, would offer unconditional support to all, who would spend great quantities of his own time answering questions privately for those who were having a hard time coming to grips with being told that they have this disease. He was well known for quietly emailing people who had not been seen online for a while to make sure they were okay. He often called some who were having particularly harsh times.
Last week, this gentle soul passed away.
Many of you heard of his death on the news, a quick blurb on CNN, a buried quote on the back pages of a newspaper. His death, his method of death, has become common enough to no longer cause a stir of media interest. A year ago, two years ago, three years ago, his death would have caused a sensation and a media circus to boot. Some of you would have nodded approval for his actions, some of you would be shaking your head in wonder, and some would openly criticize.
Bill, who is already greatly missed, solicited the services of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, and chose his death in the manner of medical euthanasia.
Bill suffered, as do I, with fibromyalgia . His body was also riddled with painful tumors in his head, spine, bladder, and other organs. To say he was in constant pain is an understatement. Everything that could be done for him was done; he was given enough pain medication to not only kill the average human, but probably the average horse as well. None of it touched his pain. He viewed life through a cloud of never ending agony, yet kept a great deal of his focus on other people. There came a point where there was nothing but pain left in his life. With no quality of life to look forward to, no hope of surviving the tumors that had wound through his body, and with no family for support, he made his decision. He chose to die with dignity, on his own terms, before piling pain upon pain just to live a few more months.
Bill was a calm presence in the middle of chaos. He whispered words of hope and was heard above the din. He educated without belittlement, he answered questions without questioning, either directly or by manner, the intelligence of those who ask; he offered support and asked nothing in return.
Yeah, it stings. Bill should have lived a long, healthy, happy life, but because life sucks sometimes, he didn't. Instead, he lived a life that would have had most of us clawing at our eyes and howling at the moon. At some point, enough was enough and he wanted out. And he wanted to go in a way he hadn't lived: without pain.
I know the arguments: it's a sin, it's wrong, we don't have the right to play God.
But hey, we play God every day. Every time we treat an illness, we play God. Every time we allow a ventilator to assist someone breathing, we play God. Every dose of chemo, every tranfusion of blood, we're playing God. Every time I take my DDAVP to quench a violent thirst that forces me to drink copious amounts that in turn makes me pee like a fiend, I'm playing God.
My gut tells me God doesn't mind one bit.
So why would he mind if instead of forcing someone to live in agony, we allowed them to die? If we just stopped pretending that the greater good is to save the life, when it means leaving the person living that life in pain, with no end in sight?
Bill was going to die eventually. He knew that. He didn't want to suffer.
Maybe Kevorkian had no right to help people kill themselves, but neither do we have the right to force them to live.
So what's the answer?
I don't think there's an easy one.
In March 1998 Bill was done.
I respect that. I don't like it, on a purely selfish level, but I respect it. Kevorkian is incidental. Kevorkian was a tool that a whole lot of people used, and he was willing to take the judgment that comes with it.
I don't think he was evil. I doubt he was anyone's savior, either.
Just a tool.
But, once upon a time I knew this guy, and he was a wicked awesome soul.