The View From the Couch: 16 Tons and What Do You Get? Twenty Nine Dead


Jack Kevorkian is back in the news, thanks to a new HBO

film starring Al Pacino. You Don't Know Jack – the title being an

appropriate double entendre. Kevorkian had largely faded from the news (he was just let out of jail

in 2007) because killing people, or, rather helping people die, became really

old news after 9/11. When America

is at war, paradoxically, its appetite for killing regular folk at home (either

via the death penalty or assisted suicide) fades somewhat.

Not all the time, of course; killing the brain dead became a

big story in the Terri Schiavo case, but that was essentially a religious-right

story, part of the culture war that President George W. Bush favored in

2005. He had been brain dead

himself a number of times during his life and came back to become President, so

why not support the Shiavo case? That whole affair was a fiasco, a morbid circus, for cable TV and the

usual suspects, profiting over the hopeless condition of Terri Schiavo. No winners, there.

And the same with Jack Kevorkian, though Al Pacino might

win some award or another for his fine portrayal. There wasn't much in the film about Kevorkian's early

years, but I do have one story that fills in his early career as a doctor. The film and his entry into the death

business, by implication, starts when he is "retired" from his career as a pathologist.

Some hold that doctors go into specialities depending on

their personalities and in Kevorkian's case it seems true he didn't have much

of a bedside manner. In fact, as

the film shows, if his patients he helped to die could put up with his gruff

and curt style, they really did want to die. No other proof is needed.Pathologists, obviously, deal with the

dead, in the main. Kevorkian was not a people person. In the film, a journalist is quoted to

the effect that physician assisted suicide was the right message, but

Kevorkian was the wrong messenger.

My story of Kevorkian is this: My uncle, Bill Dito, was

Kevorkian's first partner in the pathology business. He told me that he and Kevorkian had a disagreement in the

office over something their secretary did. Bill was of Italian background, a warmer soul than cold

Jack, and whatever the secretary's transgression was, my uncle didn't want to fire her for it. Kevorkian said it's either her or

him. My uncle said it was

her. Kevorkian left the next

day. So, it was clear from the

beginning of his career, for Kevorkian it was either his way or the highway.

My uncle went on to a successful and esteemed career as a

pathologist, known mostly to other pathologists. Jack Kevorkian went on to be Jack Kevorkian, Dr. Death. A

lot of leaders of social protest movements are egotistical bastards.It often seems to be a requirement, the

endless ability to be certain you are right and everyone else is wrong. Kevorkian fit the bill.In the film, though, he comes out as

the least flawed of any of the characters involved in his crusade, the action

arm of the right to die movement.

It was amusing, though, that, in a promo for the film, HBO

shows people at a special viewing of the movie. Kevorkian is one of them. He says he's amazed how much Al Pacino looks like him, and

appears pleased as punch at that. It's clear Jack continues to think well of himself.


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