MY CONFRONTATION WITH KEVORKIAN'S LAWYER
By Ronald Seigel
Columnist Leonard Pitts of (The Miami Herald) wrote that he tells journalistic students “if you ever propound an argument, and all the other side can do is to have a tantrum, you can consider yourself the winner by default.” One might add that whenever a reporter asks question and all he gets is a tantrum, it is of utmost importance that he keep asking questions, and consider looking into a few more. I had that experience last year at a press conference Jack Kevorkian held soon after he got out of prison. The tantrum did not come Kevorkian himself, but from his usually mild mannered lawyer, Mayer Morganroth.
In the middle of one of my questions, Morganroth launched Into a tirade, suggesting he did not believe that I was really a freelance writer. He stated that he really felt I was a great imposter engaged in a conspiracy to embarrass his client. He forbade me to say anything further, in effect, preventing me from performing my function as a journalist under the first amendment.
When asking these questions, I made no personal criticisms of Kevorkian himself. My questions merely dealt with the political positions he expressed at the press conference. Since Kevorkian is now running for congress and will undoubtedly attempt to put his ideas into law, it is even more important that these questions be raised.
While Kevorkian was best known for assisting people in committing suicide, he went to jail for going further and actively performing the killing himself. During the press conference Kevorkian advocated legalizing such active killing in order to assure patients “ freedom of choice”
However, he opposed enacting laws that set up regulations or doing so. He wanted the regulations set up by groups of doctors or as he phrased it “ organized medicine” I have no such wish to attack doctors. I have a strong respect for the dedication and intelligence of the doctors I know and those I have been treated by. However, I also have deep reservations about allowing any group of people to operate without legal restraints and become a law unto themselves.
I feel definite alarm about giving people in any profession a License to kill. So during the press conference I raised some Questions about occasions where groups of doctors failed to Behave like platonic philosopher kings or Olympian gods and demonstrated some frightening prejudices. I asked about how scholars and physicians from Georgetown University wrote (New England Journal of Medicine Feb. 25th, 1999) how when doctors were presented with hypothetical cases in a survey, they were unwilling to give the same treatment to Black patients as they were to White patients, and were reluctant to give women the same treatment they were ready to provide for men. African American women came out worse of all.
I also asked how decades ago staff members in one branch of “organized medicine “ the University of Oklahoma health Science, wrote in a national medical magazine (Pediatrics Oct 1983) that they denied life saving treatment to certain babies, because they were following a pseudo mathematical formula designed to “measure” their “quality of life” among the traits determining whether a baby lives or died was their parents! Income.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) protested such hospitals practices, noting family income could often be a “ proxy for race,” and under such policies children were being allowed to die on the basis of “race and class.”
African Americans have long been concerned about neglect in hospitals. After an experience with her daughter, the late civil rights champion, Fannie Lou Hammer, spoke out against denial of hospital treatment as passionately as she did about denial of voting rights. After my confrontation with Kevorkian’s lawyer, an African American woman told me, “People have to watch out for those who want to disconnect their love ones life supports.” When Kevorkian’s attorney was smearing me, he may have been consciously meant to cover up abuse in medicine. He may have been lashing out because of the unconscious fear that I was opening the door to questions he was psychologically unable to face about the movement that he identified himself with.
might have come up about prejudices doctors have shown against patients
with disabilities of all races. Years ago Sondra Diamond wrote about
how doctors were reluctant to treat
her when she was caught in a fire. Because she was largely paralyzed from birth, the doctors assumed she was incapable of living a “normal life.” Her parents insisted she receive the same routine treatment as other burn patients. She survived and lead a normal enough life to graduate from college, and become an educational consultant.
Tommy Meadows, a former chair of the Detroit City Council Task Force on Disabilities said one doctor was reluctant to treat his wife, Shereian, because he did not like the way she looked. Then the doctor doubted she was worth keeping alive, because he considered her “deformed.” It might have also came out that the distinguished American Medical Association (AMA), which is close as anything in This country to organized medicine, wanted to sacrifice Kevorkian’s scared principle of freedom of choice for those who want to live.
In a 1996 resolution, AMA members declared they wanted to “accommodate” doctors, who wished to deny life saving treatment, when they believed a patient did not have a “worth-the-effort” quality of life. In such cases, the AMA advocated giving hospital appointed ethical boards the power to overrule patients and their families.
They advocated board members determine the value of a patient’s Life by “ subjective values.” There is one word for “subjective value” And this is prejudice. AMA style ethical boards could make this a far more dangerous world for victims of prejudice, whether those with disabilities, African Americans and women, particularly those like Shereian Meadows, who may fail to live up to their “subjective” standards of beauty. One wonder who would be safe.
Tommy Meadows noted, “Today we’re fighting for us. Tomorrow we may be fighting for you. If you don’t stand with us today, who Will stand with you tomorrow? This raises a more fundamental question. If prominent figures in organized medicine are willing to disregard patient choices in regard to saving their lives, how can we trust them to respect patients freedom of choice when they are allowed to make the rules for active killing?
This might give rise to an ultimate question on the nature of the so-called “rights to die” movement. I patients wishes can be set aside so easily, might not “freedom of choice” simply be a code word for getting rid of lives that some do not want around? How far is this talk of “quality of life” an attempt to subvert the principle on which this nation was founded that all men are created equal? Is this an attempt to replace this with a doctrine that there are some inferior quality second and third class, Grade, B, C, and D lives that is all right to destroy?
How far are attempts to whittle away the long held safeguards that protects human life sabotaging our guarantees of equal protection of the law? For the past decade I and other disability rights advocates have been trying to head off the AMA’s master plan by working for a passage of a law making involuntary active and involuntary passive euthanasia hate crimes, when committed by health care institutions or providers receiving federal funds and done because of disability, race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. It would also define as hate crimes acts of brutality and cruelty in hospitals and nursing homes. The Bill is called the Shereian Meadows Amendment.
Those journalists who are allowed to attend Kevorkian’s press Conferences might well ask him how he stands on this issue of freedom of choice. Readers might want to write or e-mail their Senator, or Representatives, and ask the same. One hopes we will also ask ourselves the most important question of all. Is this arrogant elitism in our institutions of healing a symptom of malady in our society? The late Rosa Parks said before her death that we must “respect and care for each other” if we are to “live and be free.” Do we all receive respect and caring?
Certainly most of us do not have to convince special ethical boards of value of our lives. However we do have to struggle for acceptance, whether in school playgrounds, teen-age cliques, in getting and keeping a job, “Keeping up with the Joneses,” or maintaining our dignity in old age homes. Some find it difficult to gain acceptance in their own families.
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Often we feel the only way we can gain acceptance and respect is by putting others down. In such atmosphere, is it not easy to discount the worth of others, and see their lives expendable? In such an atmosphere, some come to reject themselves and feel that their own lives are worthless. How many of the “voluntary” suicides Kevorkian talks about might caused less by the physical pain or suffering of illness than by the emotional pain and suffering of society’s rejection, and self-rejection?
At any rate in the future columns, this writer intends to raise many questions about human rights and human dignity no matter what tantrums or tirades may result.
© 2008 - Ronald Seigel - All Rights Reserved