[Right_to_die] Mixed views on the benefits of Kevorkian
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org.opn.lists.right-to-die at lists.opn.org
Thu May 31 11:50:09 PDT 2007
The Associated Press reported:-
Kevorkian's release brings different reactions
LANSING, Mich. -- For Tina Allerellie, knowing assisted-suicide advocate
Jack Kevorkian is about to leave prison brings back all of the sadness
and anger from what she saw as her sister's needless death.
For Terrence Youk, Kevorkian's release is a relief. He was grateful when
Kevorkian helped his brother end his life in 1998 and never thought the
retired pathologist deserved the prison sentence he got for
administering the fatal drugs.
When Kevorkian walks out of a southern Michigan prison on Friday after
serving time for second-degree murder in Thomas Youk's death, he'll be
hailed as a compassionate hero by some, and regarded as a heartless
killer by others.
"It's like the wound that was starting to heal has been cut open again,"
said Allerellie, whose 34-year-old sister, Karen Shoffstall, turned to
Kevorkian in August 1997 after dealing for years with multiple
sclerosis. "We all thought that he was a real doctor. We all thought
that, even if she did contact him, there was no way that he would do
what he did. We were all very, very wrong."
Allerellie, who lives in Elora, Ontario, about 70 miles west of Toronto,
became active in Canada's anti-euthanasia movement after her sister's
death. Now 39, she says a day doesn't go by that she and her family
don't think about her sister, who had moved from Canada and was living
in Long Beach, N.Y., as a U.S. citizen when she wrote to Kevorkian about
ending her life.
Karen Shoffstall's ex-husband, Ed, said at the time of her death that
his former wife had lost the feeling in her body below the waist and
couldn't tolerate the steroids that might have provided some relief for
her chronic pain.
But Allerellie remains unconvinced that her sister really wanted to die.
"My mother and I spoke personally to the coroner who performed the
autopsy on my sister, and he said that she could have lived, in his
exact words, `Another 20, 30, 40, even 50 years.' Her thing was
depression, her thing was fear of an uncertain future," Allerellie said.
Shoffstall talked about going to see Kevorkian so often that her friends
began answering the phone, "Yeah, Jack Kevorkian here," she added.
But no one really thought Shoffstall would fly to Detroit and meet
Kevorkian. Her body was found at a Holiday Inn in the suburb of
Farmington Hills with a typewritten note saying Kevorkian and his
associate Janet Good were involved. The medical examiner said Shoffstall
did not administer the drugs herself. She was one of at least 130 people
Kevorkian said he helped die from 1990 to 1998.
Allerellie thinks Kevorkian preyed on people like her sister to gain his
own place in the spotlight. Like Shoffstall, many who went to Kevorkian
were not terminally ill. Yet he still went ahead.
"The way I understood it, he was basically providing a service to
eliminate the pain. What I have learned since then is that, in my
opinion, he is an absolute quack. ... His intent, I believe, has always
been to gain notoriety," Allerellie said. "I'm sure if I was to say to
him the name `Karen Shoffstall,' he wouldn't have a clue who I'm talking
For Terrence "Terry" Youk, his brother's death intensified his feeling
that more states need to have laws like Oregon's. It's the only state in
the country in which a terminally ill patient with six months or less to
live can legally ask a doctor to prescribe a lethal amount of medication.
A 52-year-old filmmaker in Montpelier, Vt., Terry Youk has trained to be
a hospice volunteer and made several films about end-of-life care since
his brother's death, including one used to train hospice workers that
won an award from the National Hospice Foundation. In his eyes,
Kevorkian should be hailed, not hated.
"Clearly, Jack practicing medicine without his license is certainly a
violation. But ... it's not a murder. It was a medical service that was
requested and, from my point of view, compassionately provided by Jack,"
he said. "It should not be a crime."
By the time Thomas Youk, then 52, met with Kevorkian, he was nearly
immobilized by Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS, able to move only his thumb
and forefinger on his right hand and often choking on his own saliva.
"He was kind of in the midst of a lot of fear, and feeling like he had
lost a lot of meaning and dignity in his life," Terry Youk said of his
brother, who lived in Oakland County near Detroit. "He was difficult to
understand, but ALS doesn't affect your cognitive abilities. He was very
clear about what he wanted to do."
Kevorkian met with Terry and Thomas Youk and with Thomas Youk's wife,
Melody, who still lives in Waterford Township. He looked over Youk's
medical records and tried to talk Youk out of going ahead. Everyone
agreed to put off any decision for a couple more weeks.
But within days, Thomas Youk again awakened in the middle of the night
choking on his own saliva and unable to breathe. "He very clearly said
he wanted to move the process along," said Terry Youk, who again
Thomas Youk couldn't administer the shots he needed to die, so Kevorkian
gave him the shots _ and taped the entire process. Melody and Terry Youk
stayed away at Thomas Youk's insistence. He was afraid they could be
held criminally liable in his death.
Kevorkian then gave the tape to CBS' "60 Minutes." And although Oakland
County Prosecutor David Gorcyca had declined to go after Kevorkian for a
series of earlier assisted suicides, this one he couldn't let pass.
"He got out in the national spotlight and videotaped for the world to
see an act that didn't involve assisted suicide but euthanasia," Gorcyca
said. "He called me out and begged to be prosecuted on `60 Minutes.' ...
He didn't think any jury would convict him of any crime. And that's why
he was so brazen about the Youk case, even to the extent that he decided
to represent himself."
Kevorkian tried to call Terry and Melody Youk to testify during the
trial. But after Gorcyca dropped the assisted suicide charge, the judge
ruled that their testimony about Thomas Youk's suffering wasn't relevant
in a murder trial.
By the time he's released Friday, Kevorkian will have served just over
eight years of his 10- to 25-year sentence, having gotten a year and
nine months' time off his sentence for good behavior.
Terry Youk says his brother's experience shows that some people need the
option of physician-assisted death.
"If you respond well to palliative care and the hospice care, there's
really no need for this kind of medical service," he said. "(But for)
people ... that need a service like this, it's a very simple matter.
They want to make a choice, and they want to leave on their own terms,
in a way that's peaceful and dignified."
In an unhappy twist of fate, Tina Allerellie's 41-year-old brother,
William Allerellie, now is struggling with his own chronic pain and
disability brought on by scar tissue from childhood surgery growing
rampant and attacking his organs. Although she's still against assisted
suicide, she understands why pain can drive people to ask for it.
"This is what's causing me to see the other side of the coin. My brother
is suffering terribly. In fact, my entire family is suffering terribly
watching him go through this and not being able to help him," she said.
"It is such an incredibly tough call, and Kevorkian has taken this and
turned it into a circus," Allerellie said. "It's my own personal belief
that once you give up, that's truly when your dignity is lost."
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