May/June, 1999 Volume XIII Number 6

Point of View

The beginning of the end for Dr. Death

by Thomas L. Jipping

So Dr. Death is going to the big house. Finally, after cheating justice five times, Jack Kevorkian, Americaís most notorious serial killer, is going to jail.
Kevorkian claims to have killed more than 130 people. He has killed them at their homes, killed them in his van. He has been alone with his victims, or had witnesses watch the killings. He began by supplying the means of death and helping his victims use it.
Eventually, and perhaps predictably, he became so obsessed with death that he shot the poison himself. And thatís what finally got him. Kevorkianís reign of terror was not nearly so humanitarian, so warm and compassionate, as he wants you to think. A Detroit newspaper reviewed dozens of his victims and found many of them had in fact not been terminally ill all or had not been examined by a licensed physician. Kevorkian knew nothing of their medical history, had not consulted with their doctor, and in some cases had not even known his victims for 24 hours. No, Kevorkian embodies all the ďslippery slopeĒ problems with living wills, assisted suicide, and euthanasia.
Whatís amazing is that all these liberals who oppose the death penalty because they say an innocent person might die are mum about Kevorkianís reign of terror. Fact is, our criminal justice is as close to certain as any ever devised on this planet. After trials and multiple appeals, rigorous standards of proof and rules of evidence, the margin of error is as small as possible. There is not a single documented case of an innocent man being executed. Yet with Kevorkian there are no rules, no requirements of evidence, no reviews or accountability, no standards of proof, and no appeals once the poison starts to drip.
What made the difference and brought about Kevorkianís downfall was, first, that he crossed the line between helping someone kill himself and literally doing the killing personally. Thatís really a distinction without a difference, but it was the beginning of the end for Dr. Death. That allowed prosecutors to try him not for assisted suicide, but for murder. An assisted suicide charge immediately focuses attention on the one committing suicide, and hands the real killer tools for emotional manipulation, changing the subject, and ultimately for jury nullification. A murder charge focuses attention not on the victim but on the killer, on Kevorkianís behavior.
The other pivotal point in the trial was when the judge refused to allow Kevorkian to put the victimís family on the stand. Their testimony would have been about why the victim wanted to die. That may be relevant to assisted suicide, but it is not relevant to murder. The judge was absolutely right in blocking this grandstanding and it deprived Kevorkian of any case at all. The prosecution could play the videotape from 60 Minutes showing Kevorkian killing his victim and rest. Since Kevorkianís only argument was about why he killed the man, not whether he killed him, this decision took the wind out of his sails.
Kevorkian has said he will starve himself to death if he goes to jail. Let him. He has made decisions about ending the lives of others, he can make a decision about ending his own. Kevorkian is so arrogant as to expect the rest of society to bow down and accept his twisted views and priorities. Life does not work that way. Justice means holding people accountable for what they do. Kevorkian wanted to be prosecuted for this killing. He got his wish and he got convicted. If he chooses to end his own life after ending so many others, he will be responsible for that as well.

Thomas L. Jipping, J.D., is director of the Free Congress Foundationís Center for Law and Democracy.
Contact: Tim Tardibono @ Free Congress Foundation 202-546-3000

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