National Press Club Luncheon-Monday, July 29, 1996

Today’s luncheon is our last of the summer but we have several luncheons scheduled for September, including U.S. Ambassador to Japan Walter Mondale, Education Secretary Richard Riley, retiring Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, Laura D’Andrea Tyson of the National Economic Council, Secretary of the Army Togo West, and the chief executive officer of Compaq Computers, Eckart Pfeiffer (sp).

If you have questions for our speaker, please put them on the cards at your tables and pass them up to me, and I will ask as many as time permits.

I’d now like to introduce our head table guests and ask them to stand briefly when their names are called. From your right, Hugh Sidey, Washington editor, Time Magazine; Xavier Briand, legal affairs reporter, Education Daily; Ed Silk, anchor, UPI Radio; Lisa Zagaroli, congressional correspondent, Detroit News; Frank Best, chairman, United States Medicine, Inc.; Abigail Trafford, health editor, the Washington Post; Geoffrey Fieger, Dr. Kevorkian’s attorney; Peggy Roberson, freelance journalist and chairman of the National Press Club speakers committee; Dr. George Reding, Physicians for Mercy; Marshall Cohen, freelance journalist and member of the Press Club speakers committee, who arranged today’s luncheon; Patricia McCarthy, executive editor of International Medical News; Jacobo Goldstein, White House correspondent, CNN Radio Noticias; Jonathan Gardner, Modern Health Care; and Joe Nell, Washington bureau chief, Physicians Weekly, and correspondent, National Public Radio. (Applause.)

When Victor Borge, the noted comic, stood at this podium just a few months after Dr. Kevorkian’s visit to the National Press Club in October 1992, he quipped, “When I heard that Jack Kevorkian was recently here, I thought I would be speaking to an empty hall.” This draconian impression may be shared by opponents of physician assisted suicide, most notably the American Medical Association. Yet polls taken among both physicians and the general public show some support for physician assisted suicide under certain circumstances.

The legal system in the United States has also moved in this direction since 1990, when Dr. Kevorkian assisted in the first of 33 suicides over the past six years. Indictments on first degree murder charges against Dr. Kevorkian were dropped in 1991 for his role in assisting two Michigan women to commit suicide. In recent years, juries have voted in Dr. Kevorkian’s favor, acquitting him three times on charges of homicide.

In a Michigan trial in 1994, jurors agreed with an argument by Geoffrey Fieger, Dr. Kevorkian’s attorney, that in absence of a written statute, a guilty verdict could not be supported. This year the Kevorkian Fieger team moi)fied their defense, winning an acquittal by successfully arguing before a court in Pontiac, Michigan that a person may not be found guilty of criminally assisting a suicide if that person had administered medication with the intent to relieve pain and suffering, even if it hastens the risk of dying.

Since graduating from the University of Michigan’s medical school in 1952, Dr. Kevorkian has specialized in pathology. He received his nickname “Dr. Death” not for his physician assisted suicides but from his pioneering experiments in the 1950s, photographing eyes of dying patients to help determine the exact time of death. He served as an associate pathologist in three Michigan hospitals St. Joseph’s, Pontiac General, and Wyandotte General Hospital. He has also served as a pathologist in various Los Angeles hospitals.

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    He has been hailed as the champion of the right-to-die movement and denounced as a ghoulish cheerleader for suicide. Jack Kevorkian has helped 20 people kill themselves, and now that he has been acqu...
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    Who would use the services of the right-to-die movement's death assisters? If suicide were "medicalized," if there were a death dispenser in every neighborhood staffed with a knowledgeable, certified ...

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