Kevorkian pushes for euthanasia


Dr. Jack Kevorkian speaks to a crowd of nearly 5,000 people Tuesday at the O'Connell Center on the University of Florida campus.

CHARLES ROOP/Special to The Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian promoted legalizing euthanasia before a University of Florida crowd of nearly 5,000 Tuesday, condemning governmental interference in physicians performing the "medical service" of killing suffering patients.

"My aim helping a patient was not to cause death. I mean, that's crazy," said Kevorkian, who served eight years in prison for killing a man with Lou Gehrig's disease. "My aim was to end the suffering."

Kevorkian's speech was light on details about the days he spent administering death to some 130 people - sometimes in the back of a Volkswagen van. It was more a history lesson, tracing the roots of medical ethics and constitutional law, than a treatise on assisted suicide.

As a condition of his parole, Kevorkian isn't permitted to discuss details about techniques of committing suicide, and his sometimes-rambling 70-minute speech certainly didn't violate that rule.

The event, held in UF's O'Connell Center, was attended by 4,867 people, according to organizers. Sponsored by UF's student-run speakers bureau, which draws its funding from student fees, Kevorkian was paid $50,000 for his appearance at UF. He was given an additional $7,500 by UF's Foundation because the event was rescheduled.

Kevorkian railed against what he described as the tyrannical U.S. government and he condemned the war in Iraq.

"You think Iraq is a war? That's not a war. That's a modified genocide," he said to applause, adding that the U.S. should "withdrawal entirely out of the Middle East."

Citing his disgust with the government, Kevorkian suggested "everyone should refuse to vote. That will give the tyrant a message."

Kevorkian spoke briefly about the days he spent in prison, where he says he became interested in reforming the way criminals are punished. He noted that men he met in prison were losing their lives needlessly, even after they'd paid their dues.

"Something's wrong," he said. "It doesn't take brains to see that. So much misery and destruction of life with this punitive system. It's cruel."

Kevorkian proposed a new and radical system that would allow criminals "sanctuary," where they could be protected from prosecution and aggression. While in the sanctuary, criminals would be permitted to negotiate an appropriate punishment with the families and loved ones of victims, eliminating the need for jury trials.

Citing security concerns, UF officials opted to only distribute 5,000 tickets to see Kevorkian - less than half the capacity of the O'Connell Center's 12,000 seats. That decision left hundreds of would-be audience members without tickets.

Lt. Stacy Ettel, who helped spearhead security efforts for the event, said it's standard for UF to prohibit anyone from sitting behind a potentially controversial speaker. The same policy existed when former President Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev visited, Ettel said.

Kevorkian's visit comes on the heels of two events where UF's security response was criticized. At a September forum with U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., police Tasered an unruly student who refused to be escorted from University Auditorium.

Weeks later, several students stormed the stage during former U.S. Attorney Gen. Alberto Gonzales' speech, which was constantly interrupted by hecklers.

Despite concerns, there was no disruption during Kevorkian's speech.

Before Tuesday's event, Ettel said he wasn't abnormally concerned about anything going awry, but acknowledged there had been "a lot of hype" about security issues following the Kerry and Gonzales events.

UF's beefed-up security included metal detectors. Every audience member had to be scanned with a security wand before entering, a tedious process that led to a 30-minute delay for the lecture to begin.

UF's concerns were heightened in part by hundreds of e-mails sent to administrators that condemned the university for inviting Kevorkian. But protest outside of the O'Connell Center was limited to just a handful of people.

As for the audience inside, they weren't chanting protest either. In the hour before Kevorkian took the stage, the audience was doing the wave - with the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd playing in the background.

Jack Stripling can be reached at 352-374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com.

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