Wednesday, February 20, 2013

another Kevorkian?

Dr. Death?   Every semester my classes confront this question: If Americans are guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, should they also have the right to choose when they want to die? While my students ponder that, I show them an archival segment from 60 Minutes featuring Mike Wallace interviewing Dr. Kevorkian not long after the doctor completed almost eight years of a prison sentence.

Although that sentence was imposed following a trial in which the Judge did not allow testimony from family members of the man who chose to die, Wallace allowed them to speak. Each one thanked Kevorkian; they knew their relative wanted to leave his desperate condition. He could barely speak and breathe; signing his name was almost impossible. He begged Dr. Kevorkian to end his life and its misery.

Obvious to Wallace and to my class was that Kevorkian had nothing to gain. Fame and fortune didn’t interest him. Addressing a dying man’s wish to end his agony motivated Kevorkian. Nonetheless, when I asked my class whether he should have done what he did, many said no. Emphatically, they insisted that only God could determine when death should come.

“What if the dying man had made his own peace with God about ending his own life?” I asked.

Soon I’ll find what this group of students has to say. Chances are they’ll continue to condemn Kevorkian, much as singer Richard Marx did on twitter:

While many noted that Drew took on hard cases, others rendered stark judgment. Singer Richard Marx on Twitter compared Pinsky to Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the so-called suicide doctor: "Same results." [please see: McCready's death renews questions for Dr. Drew  By CHRIS TALBOTT | Associated Press]

Marx’s “stark judgment” reflects a bias that reminds me of my students’. Indeed, his remark suggests that difficult cases involving suicidal tendencies are or should be easy to remedy.

But many are not. Years ago, I learned that from Dr. James Farr, a famous psychologist who shared his thoughts about a suicidal Rabbi both Farr and I had known. According to Farr, the Rabbi had lived with a death wish for many years. Both he and Farr discussed it; Farr helped him battle it. And accept it.

Eventually, both men knew that a time would come when the Rabbi would end his life on purpose. Although I was shocked when that time came and I read the jarring obituary, Farr explained that the suicidal act related to the Rabbi’s negative ground of being.

Long held perceptions that resisted change ruled the day. Had the Rabbi not been aware of his negative ground of being, his end would have been incomprehensible. But he knew; he’d planned his suicide.

Farr had probably explained to the Rabbi in great depth the process that had resulted in the Rabbi’s negative view of himself. In the course of many workshops, Farr had led us to understand the control our mind creates then wields. Indeed, Farr had led many of us to alter those controls and to embrace rather than repel life’s positive energies.

Whether Dr. Pinsky’s approach on Celebrity Rehab was as effective as Dr. Farr’s is hard to tell. Both men seemed to know that some people needed more guidance than they’ll ever get. Both men seemed to know that why the final choice was made may be as hard for us to fathom as life itself.

That’s why our answers may not be the same as theirs. Some would hope that they’re among angels we’ll have to wait a while to meet.

                                                                 B. Koplen 2/20/13

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