Death Becomes Him

For all the nihilistic posturing in our culture, not many of us really want to ponder the reality of death, the nuts and bolts of how and why and when. Least of all do we want to think about the slow ways we or those we love may die, the journeys down long twisting tunnels of terminal illness or disability or chronic pain.

These paths surely can be marked with the noblest human moments of the struggle with life and death. But they are also inevitably filled with the mundane ambiguity of suffering-monotony spiked with agony; a shifting, confusing blend of hope, despair, perseverance, and surrender.

So maybe some breathe a sigh of relief when Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the retired, unlicensed Michigan pathologist who has assisted more than 40 people in committing suicide, brashly smashes open the vacuum of cultural denial. With press conferences, videotapes, and general outrageousness, he shoves death stage center where you can't look away and he claims that it's all much more simple than doctors, lawyers, ethicists, or theologians would have you think.

Dr. Jack explains it all: Suffering is wrong and the dignified choice is to end it. An I.V. drip in a rusty van or hotel room is nothing more and nothing less than a courageous stand for freedom and personal autonomy. The law has nothing to do with it. Societal standards have nothing to do with it. The blessings and shadows of a dying person's relationships with family and friends have nothing to do with it. Spirituality or organized religion certainly have nothing to do with it.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1996
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