Wednesday, June 06, 2007

FRIDA Members on Jack Kevorkian

Kevorkian’s back, making comments to the effect that he is the reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson and responding to disability right opposition by saying “Let the crippled people demonstrate.” FRIDA member Sharon Lamp was actually one of the Not Dead Yet protesters outside Kevorkian’s Southfield, Michigan, press conference on Tuesday, June 5. Hell, Dr. K, just for calling attention to your crackpot crap, Sharon Lamp’s a bigger heroine for human rights than you could ever be. (She’s a heroine in lots of other ways too, for those of you lucky enough to know her.)

So he’s back, he’s not supposed to kill anymore but he’ll keep advocating to euthanize folks. His kinda death? Well, I don’t want it, not if it’s getting in Dr. Creepy’s van, going out to the woods and letting him stick a needle up my arm. I don’t want any other kind of assisted suicide when actually what I might someday NEED is suicide counseling, knock on wood.

The Kevorkian release spurred an e-mail debate among some of us on the feminist disability side of euthanasia. We felt you might be interested in some of the thoughts, especially since we’ve heard NOTHING on this perspective since Kevorkian’s release. Bear in mind this is simply a stream of consciousness discussion.

Linda (Rochester, NY):

I've just seen a list of Jack Kevorkian's assisted suicides, and the vast majority of them are women - at least 70% of them. Many of them were not terminally ill. One of the women that he helped to die is Judith Curren - she was 42 and suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. During the weeks before her suicide, she was assaulted by her husband. Perhaps this experience and her despair may help to explain why she wanted to end her life.

I am surprised that the gender element is missing from analyses and commentaries in the press. Arthur Caplan's commentary on Kevorkian's release is quite good, but he does not mention the gender bias. Perhaps that is because he is male and it does not occur to him. Why is it that more disabled and ill women want to die than men? Gender doesn't seem to part of the analysis in the press at all.

Apparently, the National Organization of Women, amongst other feminist organizations, support the availability of assisted suicide. But there are also feminist arguments against it. Here is the link to a good article that presents feminists argument for and against:

Sharon (Chicagoland, IL):

thanks for bringing this up linda. the gender element of jack's victims has almost always been ignored by the press and mainstream feminist groups. although very early on in kevorkian's killing spree a writer did pick up and this and put out an article "the woman problem" or "jack's woman problem" something like that. after this article came out jack began to show more gender diversity-but in the end:
71% of his victims were women
67% divorced, widowed, or single
72% experienced recent declines in health
75% showed no evidence of terminal illness!!
5 victims showed no signs of physical illness or impairment.

why have mainstream fem's ignored these facts? imo, in part, because mainstream fem's feel that exposing and further publicizing this info.
would jeopardize what has been successfully sold to liberals as a "right"; the right to "assisted suicide" (which is more meaningfully described as the 'right' to have a 3rd party involved in one's 'suicide')-without regard for the fact that this 'right' too easily becomes a "duty" for marginalized populations.

btw, i consider myself to be a liberal in many ways and it's not my intention to bash liberal ideology in general. this is just one of the areas where i feel strongly that liberals need to take a deeper and more comprehensive look at the issue.


there is clearly a gender bias here, though I would not construe it, as the reporter seems to do, that jack has a "woman problem", nor would I construe it as jack "targets" disabled people. Rather what needs to be ascertained is if more women than men sought him out. And why did he assist more women than men to die. Did he see as many men patients as women patients? But also, what about assisted suicide more generally - are women more likely that men to generally seek out assisted suicide? Few feminist analyses have addressed this, though some earlier ones argue that women have different reasons from men for seeking assisted suicide, like poor pain relief, higher rate of poverty, higher incidence of depression, sexism, and domestic violence. One of the feminist arguments I read in favor of it said that "it is not clear that women are more likely than men to be euthanized or extended the means for physician-assisted suicide." But from what I have read, the opposite seems to be the case.


i do not have the stat's or reference to cite at the moment, but it is i think generally known that women are much more likely to "fail" in their suicide attempts and that women tend to attempt suicide as a cry for help while men are generally much more "successful" in their suicide attempts.

kevorkian did not recognize this in the women who approached him. all of the women who attempted suicide through kevorkian did die whereas it seems likely that had they not gone to kevorkian many would have gone on to receive suicide prevention treatment and continue on with their lives.

kevorkian has a thing about death. it's true that kevorkian did not start out using disabled people to advance this interest. the population that he was interested in earlier in his career was death row prisoners. he lobbied extensively in the state of california for the right to do live experimentation and organ harvesting on them. he was pretty much laughed out of the state and ostracized by the medical community. he was known as "dr. death" by his colleagues even then.

he then turned to another devalued population, disabled people (who i believe he sees as dying) where he was much more successful and popular in his cause. who even remembers that he actually removed organs from one of his disabled victims? like everything else he put his victims through, it didn't seem to matter to the public or the media or even the legal system when it was disabled people being victimized.

i agree that women have been found to have different reasons for attempting suicide than men. this is one of the aspects that i am most interested in regarding this topic so i hope to share more in this regard as i continue.

Amber (Chicago, IL):

To the whole exchange, I might add that the issue makes me ask the following:

What makes a woman's life worth living? Does it matter?
How did women find Kevorkian? Did the info path have a gender skew?
Why would women, or anyone, trust Kevorkian?
Also why would anyone trust some dude who says the things he does?
If Kevorkian were a woman, would this entire situation have been different? (I'm thinking back to some famous case in England where a nurse went around smothering babies)
Why don't we, feminists with disabilities, have more effective clout in combating Kevorkian and the rest of the euthanasia crowd?

And one final thought…if you haven’t seen the Euthanasia Blues YouTube video, watch it at

Readers are welcome to post their thoughts on this exchange.