BY ANDREW KALLOCH
Doctor Jack Kevorkian, one of the foremost proponents of physician-assisted suicide, spoke to students in Ames Courtroom on Monday night. Kevorkian, nicknamed “Doctor Death” for his high-profile stance on the right of consenting adults to choose the time and manner of their deaths, discussed the importance of the Ninth Amendment and the risks of government tyranny. In addition to Kevorkian, Mayer “Mike” Morgenroth, whom Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan Dershowitz referred to as “the best criminal lawyer in Michigan…and a real mensch,” spoke about Kevorkian’s legal history and his unsuccessful attempt to get the issue of physician-assisted suicide before the Supreme Court. The Harvard Law School Forum sponsored the event.
Dershowitz introduced Kevorkian as a man of real courage who has been willing to risk life and liberty for his most heartfelt beliefs. “Doctor Kevorkian is a human being who has the courage of his convictions,” Dershowitz stated.
Kevorkian, 80, deflected Dershowitz’ accolades, saying that he believed, “we deserve no praise when we do what is right.” He continued, “I’m not a do-gooder, it is just the right thing to do. That is the definition of courage: to know what the right thing to do is and to do it.” Kevorkian, who never married or had children, also noted that he was in a unique position to be able to follow his ideals at all costs. “I was in a fortunate position in life where I was not vulnerable to anything…there is too much to lose for most people and that is too much to ask of the average citizen and the tyrant knows that.”
After a series of assisted-suicide cases in which Kevorkian was consistently acquitted by Michigan juries, Kevorkian appeared on 60 Minutes in 1998. Prompted to speak about what his time in prison did for his movement and its message, Kevorkian responded, “sending me to prison made me more invincible. They know now that I have no fear of anything.”
Kevorkian explained that physician-assisted suicide should be considered a medical treatment. “No lay person who is an unauthorized medical person should be allowed to do it. It should not be done in secret.” Instead of paternalistic regulation by state and federal government, Kevorkian stated that the medical profession itself should shoulder the burden of ethics research related to physician-assisted suicide and develop procedures to ensure informed consent among patients.
While Kevorkian is best known for his work with physician-assisted suicide, he has long been an ardent proponent of the Ninth Amendment, which states that rights are not limited to those enumerated in the Constitution. Dershowitz supported Kevorkian’s effort toward recognizing the Ninth Amendment as something more than a laughable provision at the end of the Bill of Rights. “The Ninth Amendment is no joke,” he said. “It is the only provision of the U.S. Constitution that deals with how you interpret the text. Doctor Kevorkian has made a passion out of bringing life to the Ninth Amendment and to try to explain and understand why Madison sat down and carefully drafted those words.”
Kevorkian stated that the theory that the Ninth Amendment is vague and meaningless is flat wrong. “It’s plain English,” he said. “I knew very well what he [Madison] meant by my first reading of the thing.” Kevorkian has published a pamphlet about the Amendment titled, “Amendment IX: Our Cornucopia of Rights,” which is available at www.amendmentnine.com.
In addition to criticizing the legal profession’s minimal consideration of the Ninth Amendment, Kevorkian criticized the Supreme Court, the American people, and national security legislation passed after September 11, 2001. “The country is sick, very sick. And it needs lots of help,” Kevorkian stated. “We have a huge battle with a rather corrupt, deceptive, and cowardly Supreme Court. Congresses and Presidents don’t have power-it’s the Supreme Court.” Kevorkian vowed to follow in the philosophical tradition of Thomas Jefferson and seek to curtail the power of the Court. Indeed, Kevorkian is currently running for a seat in the House of Representatives in Michigan’s Ninth Congressional District.
In the question and answer segment, Kevorkian often buttressed his opinions with the libertarian philosophy of John Stuart Mill. Kevorkian declared that “law has only one function-to stop you from using a right…A law cannot create a crime.” Kevorkian also rebuffed the notion that his illegal actions actually hurt the progress of the assisted-suicide movement nationwide. “I didn’t make it bad. It is a corrupt society that made it bad. It is a corrupt government in Michigan that made it bad.”
Kevorkian also sharply criticized the Patriot Act, which he called “an exact copy of the Nazis’ Enabling Act.” Simply put, Kevorkian claimed, “homeland security law enabled the tyrant to tighten the screws.” Rejecting fear as “a principle of totalitarianism,” Kevorkian concluded, “Fear nothing-disillusion, pain, disappointment, failure, death-fear nothing, because fear controls.”
Kevorkian finished his address by offering his opinion on what is needed to live an honorable life. He stated that the most valuable characteristic of a human being is honesty. “Children are the only ones that tell the truth. We lie because we learn that’s the way to get ahead in society…Honesty, we need that more than anything.”
Despite Kevorkian’s frank tone, Dershowitz cautioned that audience that Kevorkian was not at liberty to discuss certain issues. Indeed, there are some restrictions on what Kevorkian can say lest his lose his parole, which he received for good behavior in 2007 after serving eight years of a ten to twenty-five-year sentence for second-degree homicide.
The next event of HLS Forum will be on Monday, November 17th, 2008 at 5:00 PM. Ms. Valerie Caproni, the General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, will be speaking on the newly-revised Attorney General Guidelines that govern the FBI’s domestic operations.