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.