Thursday, December 18, 2008

Televised Assisted Suicide in the U.S.

In the comments below, Dethmama asks whether assisted suicide has ever been televised in the U.S., as they have just done in Britain.

This is by no means a comprehensive answer, but I was reminded of 60 Minutes' interview with Dr. Jack Kevorkian from 1998, during which they televised the euthanasia of a man with Lou Gehrig's disease. (It was an actual euthanasia; Dr. Kevorkian was responsible for the act of death.) 

The interview was what led to Kevorkian's imprisonment for second-degree murder. He served about nine years of a 10–25 year sentence. 

I can't find the actual clip of the first interview, but I found this clip from a follow-up interview that shows most of the original piece within it. However, CBS' site won't let me embed it, so you'll have to follow the link to view. 

There are some marked differences between the U.S. piece and the British piece:

*First, the U.S. piece is as much about Kevorkian as it is about assisted suicide. 

*Second, I'm really struck by how the British piece gives the dying man a voice. And I realize someone with advanced Lou Gehrig's disease cannot speak well ... but there are other things that could be done—talking more to family, photos of his past, stories, etc. 

*Third, the British piece showed us an assisted suicide done through legal channels, so we are well positioned to confront the issue. The shock value of breaking the law, doing things behind closed doors, with shady methodology, all of that is gone. Dr. Kevorkian lost his medical license in 1991. Thus, he didn't have access to the usual cocktail of barbituates used for assisted suicide. What we see in the U.S. piece are his makeshift means. In the British piece, the man's death feels peaceful; he says goodbye to his wife. I see a death with dignity. In the U.S. piece, I see a more haphazard way of ending suffering. 


dethmama said...

For cryin' out loud... I can't keep up with you Jessica. Have mercy on an old woman.

Really, thanks for this post. As usual you're right on top of it. I do vaguely remember this telecast and have included this post for Friday's "Articles of Interest".

Jessica Knapp said...

Well, I'm snowed in and can't get to work, so there's more time to blog this week. Seattle shuts down completely when we get a few inches.