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Kevorkian Dies at Age 83
Posted by Peg Sandeen, MSW on June 3, 2011
Every movement needs a lightning rod to spur people to notice and think about the issue at hand. The right to die movement had Jack Kevorkian. Never one to advocate from the shadows, Kevorkian enthusiastically—and at times absurdly—placed himself and his actions in the limelight.
Kevorkian's antics started during a time when a larger cultural discussion about death and dying was gaining momentum: what should end of life care look like and if it's appropriate for an individual to decide how and when to die when faced with a terminal illness. His methods were part of a panoply of responses to protracted dying during the 90s.
In 1992, Final Exit by Hemlock Society founder Derek Humphry, was published and quickly shot to the top of the New York Times best seller list where it stayed for 18 weeks. Oregon passed the first-in-the-nation Death with Dignity Act in 1994. And the growth of hospice and palliative care in the US throughout the 90s was astounding. According to Wikipedia:
The first United States hospital-based palliative care programs began in the late 1980s at a handful of institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic and Medical College of Wisconsin. By 1995, Medicare alone funding patients in 1,857 hospice programs with Medicare certification. In that year, 72% of hospice providers were non-profit. By 1998, there were 3,200 hospices either in operation or under development throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, according to the NHPCO.
His outrageousness drew the attention of the mainstream media thereby lending a megaphone to everyone involved in improving end of life care options. From a distance his methods appeared justifiable; upon careful inspection they were gruesome. Even after Oregon's Death with Dignity Act was implemented in 1997, Kevorkian would have been prosecuted to the full extent of the law had he carried out his actions in 1998 in Oregon.
Firebrand, hero, crazy man, renegade, zealot. No matter how you describe him, Kevorkian got all of us to think about something we never want to face, and by talking about death our end of life options are improving.
Defend dignity. Take action.
You are the key to ensuring well-crafted Death with Dignity laws for all Americans. With your financial and volunteer help, the Death with Dignity National Center, a 501(c)(3), non-partisan, non-profit organization, has been the leading advocate in the death with dignity movement. Member contributions helped us pass a new Death with Dignity law in Washington, defend the Oregon law, and provide education and outreach programs for the vitality of the death with dignity movement.