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Steyn’s satirical best on the culture of death

(PHOTO: Dr Jack Kevorkian)

One of the best articles by one of the best and most entertaining of writers – Mark Steyn.

Who else would title his reflection on Dr Kevorkian’s recent death “Jack in the Box“, and who else could publish such a readable analysis of both euthanasia and abortion in the Spectator? He is one of the greats.

From the Christmas edition of the Spectator, at the peak of Dr Kevorkian’s infamy, 1998:

Traditionally at this season, American TV networks would broadcast specials like “The Perry Como Christmas Show” with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “The Little Drummer Boy”. These days the fare is more robust. So the other weekend CBS’s flagship news show “60 Minutes” signed Dr Jack Kevorkian to kill a guy in prime time.

Dr Kevorkian is America’s most famous “assisted suicide” assistant: if you’re feeling down, call him up; he’ll come round, “assist” you, and dump your corpse at the county morgue the following morning. For his TV special, though, he wasn’t assisting but delivering the lethal injection himself. The Doctor is not, temperamentally, one of life’s assistants, and it was inevitable that he would one day demand the starring role.

You can’t blame “60 Minutes”, who, in some ways, are in the same precarious position as the nation’s assisted suicides. They’ve been America’s number one TV show for three decades, but their ratings are a little less healthy these days and, face it, the average age of the production team is about 104. The chief anchor is Mike Wallace, 80; the producer is Don Hewitt, 77. The show has an off-week or two, and suddenly the family – the network – starts wondering whether it wouldn’t be kinder to put the old coots out of their misery and, besides, look at the money it costs keeping ’em going. So Hewitt and his vulnerable codgers thought it time to demonstrate they still had what it takes to keep up with the raucous youngsters like Jerry Springer. Hence, the “60 Minutes” Death – Live! special.

And Dr Kevorkian more than delivered. The guy he killed was . . . well, I forget his name and, frankly, it seems a bit of a chore to cross the room to look up the poor schmucko loser’s moniker when no one else remembers it either: like the girl who gets sawn in half by a star magician, he was strictly a prop. But, for those proponents of “death with dignity”, Dr Jack’s bedside manner was no doubt comforting. “We’re going to inject in your right arm,” he said, as 22 million Americans watched him reach for the potassium chloride. “Okay? Okey-doke.”

And, with the Doctor’s okeydoke ringing in his ear, 52-year-old Tom Youk (I looked him up), a sufferer from Lou Gehrig’s disease, departed this life, just in time for the commercial break.

Thus, the old Kevorkian okey-dokey: you put the needle in, you take the needle out, you put the needle in, and you watch him shake about. Afterwards, the octogenarian Wallace put a few questions to Dr K., who looked at him with the genial anticipation a cougar reserves for tomorrow’s lunch. Why do this on network television? Easy, said Dr Death. “Either they go or I go.”

He was, in fact, referring to the state of Michigan’s prohibitions on murder. There are already laws against physician-assisted suicide, but, after three acquittals, no prosecutor is anxious to drag the Doc into court again. Indeed, one county attorney was elected on the specific platform that he wouldn’t waste any more tax revenues prosecuting Dr K: nothing is certain but death and taxes, so it seems foolish to blow the latter on investigating one man’s zeal for the former. Hence the Doctor’s decision to raise the stakes from merely assisting to actively killing.

A few days after the broadcast, the county attorney, goaded into action, charged Dr Kevorkian with first-degree murder. If he’s convicted, the Doc says he’ll go on hunger strike and kill himself. Wow, talk about taking your work home with you.

With his severely cropped white hair and the unnerving random smile of a Hollywood serial killer, Jack Kevorkian is not the pin-up boy the “mercy killing” movement would wish. As a doctor, he’s never had a patient he’s made better. He was a pathologist before he got into the killing business. He’s also an artist who paints whereof he knows: an exhibition of recent art works a year or two back drew heavily on his fondness for skulls and severed heads. Then he diversified into organ donation, promoting the harvesting of death-row inmates and showing up at press conferences waving miscellaneous spare parts yanked, none too neatly, from his latest patients. When he turned up at a local hospital offering his most recent client’s kidneys, one of his lawyers could stomach no more. Michael Odette’s seven-year-old son said, “Dad, you shouldn’t represent him. They should throw him in jail and melt the key.” “That kind of did it for me,” said Mr Odette.

And later in this long article:

It’s hard to believe that our increasing enthusiasm for hastening death isn’t connected to our well-established practice of denying life: abortion and euthanasia sing their siren songs from opposite ends of life’s cycle. But what a shame the “pro-choice” movement has no lurid Kevorkian figure to force the issues before 22 million Americans. Instead, under the bland cover of  “a woman’s right to choose”, the abortionist beavers away in the shadows, and only in the rarest of circumstances is daylight shed on his art.

One such occasion was 14 March 1997, when two boys playing at the foot of a steep embankment just off the Coronado Freeway in Chino Hills, California, came across some garbage from the highway and cycled home excitedly to tell their parents they had found boxes with “babies” in them.

They were wrong, of course. The boxes contained not babies but foetuses, and, as the Supreme Court has ruled, foetuses are not babies, not at all. But they looked like babies, albeit in incomplete configurations, like second-hand dolls: some were almost whole, the rest just a grab-bag of limbs and heads. It fell to Brian McCormick, the San Bernadino County coroner, to determine that there were 54 in all, dumped there by a careless trucker, who may not have been aware what precisely the clinic 30 miles down the road had given him to get rid of. He spent 71 days in gaol for “the improper disposal of medical waste”.

It’s no surprise that in a culture of death there are those who resent the way such a frivolous “right to choose” does not extend beyond term. For if a viable, sentient nine-month foetus can be partially delivered and then terminated, why stop there? The teenager who last year delivered her baby in a toilet stall during her high-school prom, flung him in the trash and went back to the dance with her boyfriend is truly a nativity story for our times.

And that would have been that, had not a few residents, feeling bad about the “medical waste” dumped in their backyard, contacted Mr McCormick and offered to give the non-babies a proper burial. At which point, enter the American Civil Liberties Union: never mind that trucker, it was this religious burial service that constituted truly “improper disposal of medical waste”. The ACLU decided that, by handing over the medical waste “for the express purpose of holding religious services”, a civic official was facilitating a religious ceremony and, therefore, breaching the separation of church and state and threatening everyone’s civil liberties.

America is not that bonkers, not yet. A few weeks ago, the ACLU’s ludicrous complaint and the non-babies were both laid to rest, the latter in 54 small caskets with brass plates and headstones in a cemetery in Riverside. The plots, the plates, the granite, the coffins were all provided free of charge by local organisations.

The scandal is not that these babies were unloaded off the edge of the highway, but that they were yanked from the womb in the first place. The culture of death marches on under the artful euphemism of “a woman’s right to choose”. To choose what? The most cumbersome and inefficient form of contraception any society could devise. But the feminist movement chose early on to fetishise abortion and is unwilling to be weaned from its habit. In fact, since the murder of an abortion doctor in Buffalo just before November’s elections, there’s been an attempt to argue that the rhetoric of pro-life groups contributes to “the climate of hate” and thus the subject should be out of bounds in polite society. In The Los Angeles Times, Suzanne Gordon and Isabel Marcus objected to fellows like me using terms like “abortion doctor” and “abortionist” to describe the slain Dr Barnett Slepian: he was, they say, a “healer” who “in the course of a broad obstetrical-gynaecological practice” terminated pregnancies “to save the woman’s life or to respect her own personal choice about becoming a mother”. These two circumstances did not weigh equally with the late Dr Slepian. According to a survey by the pro-abortion Alan Guttmacher Institute, asked why they were terminating their pregnancies, only 7 per cent of women cited any kind of “health problem”, life-threatening or not, while 76 per cent were “concerned about how having a baby could change her life”, 68 per cent said they “can’t afford baby now”, 51 per cent have “problems with relationship”. In other words, belated birth control.

But it does finish with more of a hopeful note…  Worth a read: http://www.steynonline.com/content/view/4120/28/

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