Kevorkian raised an issue that won't go away
Goodbye, Dr. Death.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian is no longer with us and for that many are grateful and pleased. But the issue he raised -- dying on one's own terms -- continues on.
When the Detroit area pathologist died on June 3 the first question on everyone's lips was, did he have "assistance." Sorry, nope, the good Doc just faded away, listening to Bach. His flamboyance and single-minded pursuit to thrust assisted suicide on the state of Michigan and the country, however, won't fade away.
Kevorkian was part of a saga that broke here, bringing national media attention and -- as always -- courtroom drama.
The Klooster story brought to the media in part because Gerald Klooster's son, Gerald II who is known as Chip, had spirited his father away from his mother and wanted a court to bless that action because Kevorkian was at the center of that.
Gerald and Ruth Klooster were visiting friends in Florida from their California home and those friends overheard Ruth talking to Kevorkian -- and alerted Chip, who flew down to Florida and returned here with his father fearing his mother was going the assisted suicide route with his father.
Thus began a tug of war between the Michigan Kloosters and the California Kloosters with Chip winning the first round in 1996 when 7th Probate Court Judge Frederick Mulhauser gave him temporary guardianship of his father.
Of course, Alameda County (Calif.) Probate Judge William McKinstry ruled that the elder Klooster needed to be returned to California and gave permanent conservatorship to his daughter, Kristen Hamstra.
In 1996 Gerald was returned to California, and in June of that year, a judge ruled he should be returned home to his wife. Ruth found him unconscious in September from an overdose of whiskey and sleeping pills; on his release from the hospital he was again placed with his daughter.
He eventually went back to live with his wife and he died in January of 1999. The saga was the subject of a movie on Alzheimer's and assisted suicide title "Time to say Goodbye?"
Last week was Kevorkian's time to say goodbye, but the issue of assisted suicide won't go away just because we wish it so.
In fact, in several casual conversations with people they were thankful he raised the issue of how we can die and they were of the opinion that a gentle, quick and painless way to end one's life, if the end was proving ugly and painful, was a reasonable thing to accomplish.
Kevorkian was the poster child for the saying "Right message, wrong messenger." You almost felt sorry sometimes for Kevorkian's attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, because, well, you never knew what Jack was going to do next.
And those in the death with dignity camp -- such as activists in Oregon which has the only law in the nation that allows a doctor to prescribe medications that if a patient takes them will induce death -- saw their efforts pushed back because of Kevorkian's antics.
But eventually Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act in 1997. It allows physicians to write a prescription for patients to end their life; doctors cannot administer the drugs.
In 2010, 96 people received those prescriptions and deaths attributable to those prescriptions number 59.
The annual report that must be submitted under the act lists who participated and where.
-- Of the 65 patients who died under DWDA in 2010, most (70.8 percent) were over age 65 years; the median age was 72 years. As in previous years, most were white (100 percent), well-educated (42.2 percent had a least a baccalaureate degree), and had cancer (78.5 percent).
-- Most (96.9 percent) patients died at home and most (92.6 percent) were enrolled in hospice care at time of death. Most (96.7 percent) had some form of health care insurance, although the number of patients who had private insurance (60.0 percent) was lower in 2010 than in previous years (69.1 percent), and the number of patients who had only Medicare or Medicaid insurance was higher than in pervious years (36.7 percent compared to 29.6 percent).
There was the fear, of course, that Oregon would become a haven for those seeking a physician aided way to die and there'd be no oversight and, well, you can just imagine all the issues that were raised at the time.
But 59 deaths out of 3.875 million residents is hardly a stampede to take a gentler way out; in fact it's not even a statistical blip. It does show, however, that given the opportunity to take a gentler way out, there are those among us who will. On their terms, when the time is right for them.
Is it wrong to ask that we be able to die with the same dignity with which we lived? Dr. Death didn't think so, and on that score he was right.
Kendall P. Stanley is retired editor of the Petoskey News-Review. He can be contacted at email@example.com.