Video: Angry 'Dr. Death' on defensive
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian is cold.
- WHAT: Dr. Jack Kevorkian speech
- WHERE: O'Connell Center
- WHEN: Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for students with Gator 1 ID, 7 p.m. for public
- TICKETS: Free tickets will be available at the University Box Office this afternoon, and may be available at the O'Connell Center at 6:30 p.m. if any are left.
- For more information, call (352) 392-1653
On the evening before his appearance at the University of Florida, Kevorkian fidgets with the thermostat to warm up his hotel suite. Unlike his days in prison, where he served eight years for killing a man with Lou Gehrig's disease, Kevorkian now has control.
Control over the temperature.
Control over the food he eats.
Control over his asking price, which is more than $50,000 for the talk he'll give at UF's O'Connell Center tonight.
Sitting in a large blue chair in his suite, Kevorkian sips on a half glass of water and chats about the beauty of UF's campus. A frail man, now approaching 80, he has a grandfatherly demeanor and a soft handshake. He is affable and smiling.
But Kevorkian's seemingly low-key style makes his transformation into a furious and agitated promoter of physician-assisted suicide all the more stunning. And the transformation doesn't take long.
After a few pleasantries, Kevorkian grows visibly angry discussing the Supreme Court's decision to not take the case that sent him to prison for second-degree murder.
"The Supreme Court are liars," he says, crunching his face into an expression that bears no trace of the man who casually adjusted the thermostat moments before. "Second, they're cowards and dishonest. They don't do their duty to rule on a constitutional issue that's never been used. See, they're in cahoots with the tyrant. You don't know the slave you are. You don't realize that."
It is Kevorkian's firm belief that the Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution empowered him to assist in the suicides of some 130 people. The amendment, by his interpretation, states that any rights not spelled out in the Constitution - including killing people as long as they ask for it - belong to the people.
For Kevorkian, this view of the Ninth Amendment is nothing short of an obsession. When confronted with the criticism of a UF law professor who took issue with Kevorkian's claim, the man dubbed "Dr. Death" becomes belligerent.
"Natural rights are not enacted! They're not given to you by law! You have them by birth, and the only way you can lose 'em is if they kill you," he told The Sun in an exclusive interview Monday. "I know what I'm doing! I know what I'm doing. I wouldn't be doing this otherwise. I'm not dumb. My aim is to wake these American people up. That's what Jefferson said I gotta do. You know that? I'm doing what Madison said to do. I'm happy. I'm proud to do that."
Kevorkian's story, as it's known to the public, began in 1990 when he provided a suicide machine to Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old Alzheimer's patient from Portland, Ore. She died in a 1968 Volkswagen van in Michigan's Groveland Oaks Park. Critics scoffed that a doctor would help a woman to kill herself anywhere, much less in a van.
"Other doctors don't cooperate with me because they're scared to death," he said. "So I have to do everything secretly, and they say, 'Oh, look at him, he sneaks around, uses the van' - because I couldn't find a place to do it. I'm honest. I tell them what I'm going to do."
Kevorkian's frustration with the medical establishment is still visceral. That emotion comes through as he discusses Florida's high-profile "right-to-die" case, in which Terri Schiavo was pulled from a feeding tube against the wishes of some of her family. Kevorkian says he agrees in principal with ending Schiavo's life, because that was her expressed wish made to her husband. But the outcome of the Schiavo case highlights the kind of cruelty Kevorkian says could be avoided under legalized euthanasia.
"They just let her die without feeding and water," he said. "Is that humane? If it is then the Nazis did the right thing, didn't they, in the concentration camps. Huh? You don't want to talk about that, do you."
The Schiavo case has left some Florida residents' emotions raw about Kevorkian. Her brother, Bobby Schindler, is among those who has opposed Kevorkian's appearance tonight.
"Why do people oppose me? They don't know what I'm gonna talk about," he said. "If they protest me talking about my rights, they're really crazy."
Some of the protest will come from members of UF's anti-abortion group, who say they're upset to see their student activity fees lining the pockets of a convicted murderer.
Kevorkian says his fee is justified.
"What's wrong with that? I'm worth it," he said. "Don't you think my lecture is more interesting than the lecture by (John) Kerry?"
Kerry, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, actually charged nothing for his appearance at UF. Kevorkian, ironically, ended up getting paid more for his UF appearance because of the Kerry talk, in which a rowdy student was Tasered by UF police. UF opted to delay the Kevorkian lecture because of the Taser controversy, and Kevorkian's attorney demanded an additional $7,500 to renegotiate the contract. The $7,500 was not taken from student fees, but instead from the UF Foundation, the university's fundraising arm.
Some of the opposition to Kevorkian comes from religious groups and churches. As The Sun's interview winded down with Kevorkian Monday, a reporter asked him his view of religion and, specifically, what he believes happens to people when they die.
"Who knows? That's a crazy question . . . It's a crazy question because it's unanswerable," he said emphatically. "You think it was a sane question? It's not sane. What happens after you die? The same thing that happens before you were born."
"We're so scared of what's coming," he adds. "You've got all kinds of religion nonsense, because you're scared of this thing called death."
Jack Stripling can be reached at 352-374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com.
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