Just hours before they died, Miller, Wantz, and family members met with Kevorkian at the home of
Just hours before they died, Miller, Wantz, and family members met with Kevorkian at the home of Sherry Miller’s parents on October 22, 1991. Miller, 43, had advanced multiple sclerosis and had approached Kevorkian a year earlier. She kept pursuing him and told her story several times on television. Marjorie Wantz, 58, also had sought Kevorkian’s help for years. Although not terminally ill, she suffered excruciating pain after many surgeries to remove benign vaginal tumors. She had tried to kill herself several times. Psychiatrists said she was depressed and suicidal and some felt her pain was psychosomatic. (Later, when the medical examiner conducted her autopsy he found no physical cause for her pain.) The day after this interview, they committed suicide in a rustic cabin. Wantz used a machine Kevorkian invented, which injected a fatal substance; Miller inhaled carbon monoxide because her veins were too weak for a needle.
He called the machine the Thanatron—“death machine” in Greek. It was devised so that the patient could pull the trigger. It started with an intravenous drip of saline solution. Then the patient would press a button starting a device that stopped the saline solution and started releasing a drug of thiopental with a 60-second timer. This would put the patient into a deep coma. Finally, the timer’s click would begin a lethal dose of potassium chloride, which, in minutes, would stop the heart. The patient would die of a heart attack while asleep.
The Thanatron was made from odd bits and pieces of household tools and toy parts, magnets, and electrical switches. It had an electric clock motor with a pulley axle, and a chain and two coils acting as electric bar magnets. Kevorkian showed it off , including an appearance on The Donahue Show. He called it “dignified, humane, and painless, and the patient can do it in the comfort of their own home at any time they want.” Everyone who has known Jack Kevorkian first talks about his brain. “He could tell you any major league baseball player’s batting average,” his boyhood chum Richard Dakesian told me, his voice tinged with awe. “He probably could have graduated from high school when he was 13 or 14. He’s the smartest man I ever knew. I think he was born ahead of his time.
1. Go to the website
2. Read the selections from the Frontline video “The Kevorkian Verdict” and Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act.”
3. Write an essay answering the question “Is it ethical public policy to make doctor-assisted suicide, criminal homicide?” Support your answer with points made in the selected readings.
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