Dr. Jack Kevorkian: Your Questions Answered!

When I began directing this blog about 16 months ago, I wondered if there would be sufficient interest in approaching ordinary news items from an ethical perspective, as we do here. I asked myself — with certain skepticism — if people with radically contrary opinions would be willing to examine controversial issues of our day without assuming a false dichotomy between reason and faith, as if the two were incompatible at all levels.

But today I marvel at the growth in both numbers and diversity of our readership and am encouraged by the willingness of so many to examine the REASONS behind the opinions of others. As you will see below in the reactions to my article Why 'Dr. Death' Still Matters, the issue invokes strong and divergent emotions. You will also see, however, how most readers explain WHY they agree or disagree with my thesis — that’s what we are looking for! A few resort to name calling, but here we don’t mind that either; it’s a healthy taste of humble pie.

God bless, Father Jonathan
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P.S. See you again this Sunday morning at 7:50am (U.S. Eastern) on Fox and Friends!

You didn't answer the question Page (on Fox and Friends) posed to you about an ALS-type struggle. It's not a matter of heroics; you are going to die from it, just not soon enough. I agree with you about heroics in terminal cancer cases. It gets to a point where death will come quickly, so choosing to prolong life a month or two is meaningless. But ALS is different. I would really like to know your answer. — Respectfully, John G. (Batavia, IL)

RESPONSE: John, you are absolutely correct. I skirted the question. If I had listened more attentively to the good point Page made, about what I would say to someone struggling with ALS (Lou Gehrig disease), I would have responded that first we must recognize that with the advances in pain control medicine and palliative care, the number of cases where someone is left in long-term agony and without any options is now less than one percent of all terminal patients (I checked this with a doctor I trust before writing it). Even in these rare cases, I think we can find more compassionate responses than lethal injection. I’ve been with people at their deathbed — people who have suffered long and painful illnesses — and many experience great comfort through the loving presence of family and friends. This love can outweigh even the long suffering that accompanies debilitating diseases like ALS. But what about the people who are left to die alone and in great pain? We can’t forget them … but I don’t think the best solution is to give doctors a free pass to kill them. Instead, we should be looking for ways to reduce and eliminate such tragic loneliness in our own neighborhoods. This kind of charitable work, by the way, is primarily the responsibility of individual citizens … not the government.

Thank you!

As a father of a special needs child that died in 2000 at three-years-old. I understand this issue very well. […]

My wife and I were able to make a rational decision to remove the life support systems that breathed for her.

We did NOT deny her food or hydration even when told she could live in her state "forever." That is plain murder! Who decides who is viable? Who decides who is worthy? Who decides who plays God? God does. Only God.

She is with God! She is perfect! She was perfect to us no matter how ill. She suffered and smiled daily until her last moment. Now we smile knowing she is with God! — David F. (Sugar Hill, GA)

RESPONSE: David, thanks for the note and for sharing with all of us your and your wife’s love for your little child. I’m sure there was a lot of suffering involved in her short time on earth (the moment you found out about her illness, her surgeries, the long hours at her bedside, etc.), but as I have seen in other cases, special needs children can change a family for the good and forever, and it seems this has happened with you. Your family has learned the value of selfless service and unconditional love. If you have other children, I am sure they will never forget how you took care of their little sister, and why you did it. On another note, the point you make about the removal of an artificial respirator is important. I don’t think there is any moral obligation to use extraordinary, artificial means to keep someone alive indefinitely. Refusing nutrition and water to someone who, otherwise, is perfectly viable, is a very different case. In my opinion, based on the information you give, you made a good decision.

[You said,] “Animals don't give and experience love and affection in the same way as humans. They cannot find meaning and peace in the acceptance of tragedy. They cannot look beyond their present state of suffering with hope for a better future.”

How anthropocentric (i.e. arrogant) of you. If this is truly your belief and you are a “man of God” you have given me yet one more reason to be an atheist. And by the way, how do you know what animals are capable of feeling? If this arrogant view of animals is the basis for your argument against “death with dignity” you have failed miserably to convince me and in fact the only thing that you have convinced me of is that atheism is the only true salvation for life on this planet. — Mary

RESPONSE: Mary, I think you have been a reader of this blog from almost the beginning. Thanks! I appreciate your perspective and you always make me think. In your response to your latest note, I don’t doubt animals can “feel” pain, but I think you and I would agree that animals experience life in a very different way than we do. This difference has consequences when it comes to end-of-life care. Animals act out of instinct…whereas humans make free and, therefore, moral decisions. That’s why pet owners can train an animal to act in a certain way, but are never disappointed when they don’t remember to do something special for their birthday. I was not suggesting in Monday’s article that we should inflict unnecessary pain on animals, but only that, while “mercy-killing” may be the most compassionate solution for a terminally ill animal, only human beings can turn sickness and old age into opportunities for human and spiritual growth. Caretakers do a great service to patients when they show in word and action that our value and dignity don’t depend on age, health, race, sex, or utility; they flow from our human nature.

Several years ago, my father-in-law, in his early 70s, repeatedly attempted suicide due to mental illness. At his age, medical professionals assumed age-related dementia, even though he had declined from normalcy to suicidal over a very short period of time, and they basically wrote him off despite his family's concern. I even heard a doctor in a hallway saying, "I don't know what they expect, at his age."

The family knew better and persevered. Eventually, apparently through a combination of changed medication and divine intervention, he was restored to full mental health. As he describes it, one morning the fog just lifted from his mind and he knew instantaneously that all was well.

Since that time, he has returned to his church work, his senior sports league, and his role as husband, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He is fully restored to his "old self."

If someone like Dr. Kevorkian or David Hume had had their way, he would have succeeded [in his desire for suicide] leaving a devastated family. If his physicians had succeeded, he might be institutionalized and separated from his wife of 65 years. All because he didn't think his life was worth keeping -- at the time. Thank God we all know better. — Jill (California)

RESPONSE: Jill (I changed your name because you asked me to). A great story! Thank you.

In the end I think we need to recognize that the American legal system allows us to use our religious beliefs to guide our laws, but we may not impose our religious beliefs on others. — Bob

RESPONSE: Bob, I think I understand the good point you are making (respect and tolerance of all people), but it seems you are implying that all ethical choices are based on religion, and therefore can’t be enforced on society. That’s a common and dangerous assumption. I often hear “the only reason why you are against ‘X’ or ‘Y’ is because you are religious.” Faith certainly informs my moral conscience, but faith doesn’t make things right or wrong. If we were to substitute “rape,” “slavery,” or “lying” for “X” or “Y” would the non-religious still blame me for bigotry?

Words cannot describe how wrong I think this is. I am afraid of [Jack Kevorkian] and those that think like him. So will I be snuffed out one day when some outside force deems my life unfulfilling? I see where this is going and it is evil. God Bless You — Laurel D (California)

RESPONSE: Laurel, as far as I know Jack Kevorkian has not killed anyone without his or her direct consent, and we need to be clear about that. But your fear is not completely unfounded. As I pointed out in Monday’s article, he has advocated “Suicide by Proxy” for cases of comatose patients and even for infants and children. When something like assisted suicide becomes legal, it paves the road for further abuses.

Your emotional rant is ignorant of real humans' carefully drafted legal documents concerning our own persons. Have you ever read a living will? Mine is very clear: "irreversible coma" and "2 doctors agree" [is the legal] language. Keep your God off my body.

RESPONSE: I’m sorry I don’t know your name, but yes, I am familiar with “living wills”. I think they can be very helpful in communicating to family member one’s intent for end-of-life decision-making, but keep in mind, living wills don’t give legal or moral impunity for killing a viable human being.

Accepting that you are a Priest with all the blessings and limitations that entails, I think you are presumptuous in asserting that we humans somehow can benefit in whatever way from suffering needlessly when all we want is to leave this place for heaven. That assertion is extraordinary. I don't accept that the Church of God, as practiced and run on earth, is so all knowing as to deny someone who simply says, "Enough already"!

So we agree to disagree, a Catholic and a Lutheran still united in our faith and forgiveness. God Bless. Keep up the good work, and see you in Heaven, I hope. — Herb (Marshall, MI)

RESPONSE: Herb, I’m also from Michigan (Go Blue!). Believe it or not, I don’t think our disagreement on this issue is based on being members of different Christian denominations. The respect for human life at all stages is, in my opinion, and in the opinion of most Lutherans, an exigence of human reason. Nowadays, almost anyone who says, “enough already,” because of unbearable physical pain, can be helped by medical assistance. If they are saying it out of desperation, we need to reach out to them with human and spiritual aid.

God bless Jack Kevorkian, he is an enlightened bright light in this world of suffering. You, on the other hand, are hell incarnate with your dreary rotting dogma. But more power to you 'Father' (ha). — Nancy

RESPONSE: Nancy, I think a lot of people on this blog were concerned about rigid and nonsensical dogma when they first started reading. Welcome aboard. Please keep writing in and explaining the reasons behind your disagreement. It will add a lot to our discussion.

Caring for — not just providing sustaining - and appreciating the sick, the infirm, and the aged, enriches us all. Together with our faith it removes the fear of finding ourselves in similar straits, and it's that very fear that allows any Kevorkian-style mass denigration to exist in the first place. Simply caring for our parents, for our whole family, eliminates the guilt that so often helps feed our fears. Thank You & God Bless — Mike

RESPONSE: Mike, I agree. Sacrificial love makes us more human and more free.

If Dr. Kevorkian and others like him are allowed to practice their art, we will become increasingly numb to others around us. It is further evidenced in much of the music our young people listen to today. Too much violence, hate, bigotry, anger, and indifference to life has already deadened many within the future generation. Life is precious! Pain is inevitable! Learning to feel compassion must be preserved. […] My opinion. — Steve (Florence, KY)

RESPONSE: Right on, Steve

Always like to hear you speak so the new video blog (vlog) is very cool. You didn’t include your “What I’ve been reading” section. I hope that comes back on the web site. God Bless you — Chris (Bryan, Texas)

RESPONSE: Bryan, I’ll keep trying to post the reading section at the end of my articles. A special thanks to Rebecca who helps me with the selection.

I like the schedule you mentioned in the article on Kevorkian including posting the video from the Sunday morning show on Mondays, your column on Wednesdays and people's comments on Fridays.

Since Fox changed the format of their homepage I had a lot of difficulty even finding you. I had begun to think your blog had been discontinued and am so glad it wasn't. — Karen

RESPONSE: Karen, you can always use the web address: www.foxnews.com/fatherjonathan to go directly to the most recent posting. We are also getting ready to start an e-mail distribution list. You will be able to sign-up to receive the blog directly in your Inbox.

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This article is part of a regular blog hosted by Father Jonathan Morris on FOXNews.com. You can invite new readers by forwarding this URL:www.foxnews.com/fatherjonathan.