Jack Kevorkian, whom I long have been attacked for defending, is in jail now and, probably, forever. Which, as I have said, was what he wanted and deserved. Having fought to win for people and their physicians the right to choose when to hasten the inevitable, he then badly damaged the cause he virtually created.
Selfishly and self-destructively he insisted on pushing the envelope from physician-assisted suicide — which was widely accepted — to videotaped euthanasia, which was not. He then worked to get himself convicted of murder.
Today he is withering in a medium-security prison in the Upper Peninsula, pretty much forgotten. Emboldened by his downfall, the enemies of freedom have been working overtime to make sure nobody gets any funny ideas about having control over their own destiny. These range from the Roman Catholic Church to a nasty little group of wheelchair-using fascists who call themselves Not Dead Yet. They specialize in creating public disruptions, lying energetically about Kevorkian’s patients, and attempting to howl down anyone who disagrees with their rigid, narrow and fanatic views.
But the real threat is always government, and last week, the Republican statists who control the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., showed just how contemptible and hypocritical they are, and reminded me that the best thing about Kevorkian was his enemies.
For years, what I heard from those who opposed Kevorkian was, well, if people want physician-assisted suicide to be legal, they should work to change the law. That’s the beauty of our flexible democratic system. And that’s precisely what happened in Oregon, where voters narrowly approved a "Death With Dignity" law in 1994 legalizing doctor-assisted suicide. The patient had to be a state resident and terminally ill. There were so many safeguards that Kevorkian, naturally, opposed it.
But the opponents, especially the religious fanatics, weren’t willing to accept the will of the people. They ignored what they’d said before. Aided by an outrageous judge, the law was tied up in court for three years, after which the state Legislature ordered the election held again. That really angered the voters, who correctly perceived that a group of cultural fascists was attempting to invalidate their will. This time it was a landslide in favor of the assisted suicide law.
Not that there was a rush to the exits. Last year, the first it was allowed to go into effect, a mere 15 people took lethal medication. But that many folks exercising freedom of choice is far too many for the discount dictators in Congress.
Last week, in a move that would have made Hitler proud, the hypocrites in the House voted to take Oregon voters’ rights away from them, passing a bill making it a federal crime for doctors to prescribe drugs to help terminally ill patients die.
The sponsor was the porcine House Judiciary Chairman, Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who last starred in the national media as the Clinton-bashing hypocrite whose affair once destroyed the marriage of a hairdresser. Apparently not all personal freedoms are equal in the eyes of Mr. Hyde.
Now, he was trying to play Dr. Jekyll. "Suicide is the ultimate act of despair," he pompously intoned. Meaning, who gives a damn for states’ rights when a bloated gauleiter like me is offended? Even opponents of the Oregon law were horrified.
"If the principles of federalism ... mean anything, this issue is none of Congress’s business," Charles Fried, a Harvard law professor and a former Massachusetts Supreme Court justice, wrote in the New York Times. "What a travesty of federalism this bill is."
What is grimly hilarious is the delusion that today’s right wing cares anything about federalist principles if they want to impose their morality on someone.
Now the law goes to the even more right-wing U.S. Senate, where Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden is threatening a filibuster. Assuming he fails, the only hope of justice is if Clinton vetoes it. Don’t hold your breath.
This is, in large measure, Kevorkian’s fault. My guess is even the glazed-eyed Christian caucus wouldn’t have dared this a year ago, when Kevo was free and his brand of assisted suicide was de facto legal in Michigan. Outlaw the responsible approach, someone would hiss, and you’ll get Kevorkian. Well, what a difference a year makes.
Democracy revisited: Jeff Kingzett, a Democratic Party activist from Pontiac, was deeply distressed by my column last week, in which I criticized the Democrats for being unwilling to risk democracy by choosing a presidential nominee in an open primary. "The party’s nominee should be the party’s nominee, not the nominee of whatever assorted group of people chooses to show up at the polls," he wrote me.
Da, comrade! Now we’re talking. Lenin felt exactly the same way. Frankly, I do not know why they even risk a caucus. Perhaps Kingzett and a few party hacks could meet in a back room and pick the nominee for us, which, of course, is what they really want. (I did make the mistake in that column of reporting that the Democrats had a primary in 1996; after holding an honest one in 1992, they abandoned it immediately.)
Good thing, too. After all, in the gubernatorial primary last time, the nasty voters got in the way of their being able to inflict Casino Larry Owen on us. If history repeated wasn’t such a delightful farce, you’d almost want to cry.