The winds howled and buffeted the grey, faded neoclassical facade of the East Portal of City Hall in Philadelphia. Standing there was the specter of Death. Dr. Death. The Grim Reaper with a doctor's stethoscope and the visage of Dr. Kevorkian. Prone, hooked up to a series of IV bags, lay the latest victim.
In Michigan the real Dr. Death, Jack Kevorkian, stood trial for the assisted suicide of Thomas Youk, a man with ALS whose death was captured in ghoulish detail on CBS' 60 Minutes. In Philadelphia we were staging a street trial.
"JAIL JACK, NOW!" Members of Not Dead yet in Philadelphia (AKA ADAPT of Philly) stood shivering and chanting.
On the ground were chalk outlines of people with various disabilities, victims of Jack's previous murders. Their names: MS. CP. ALS. Arthritis. Quadriplegia. Symbols of society's brand of mercy and compassion.
Misericordia. Latin for "Merciful Heart." Misericords, the long thin knives wielded by medieval peasants, scouring battlefields for the mortally wounded who still lived, delivering the final blow. A stab through the heart. Better off dead than maimed or disabled.
The more things change . . .
A tombstone with the names of Kevorkian's "patients" stood nearby. On signs were the list of accomplices, and Kevorkian himself. More signs, reading, "Jail Jack Now!!" and "Public Enemy #1."
Court was convened. It was time for the trial of Dr. Death.
Twelve people became the jury, holding Kevorkian masks to their faces--reflections of society's opinion of "invalids." A judge, stern in black, presided. The Prosecutor, Mr. Feiger, Kevorkian's lawyer (whose service he eschewed in order to represent himself during the real trial), Dr. Death and Mike Wallace of the Carnage Broadcasting System were on hand as well. Looking on was Lady Justice, blindfolded with sword and scales. Hovering like a specter was the Ghost of T4, emploring all to remember that a casual attitude about who should live and die can lead to genocide.
PROSECUTOR: If it pleases Your Honor, I am here on behalf of the State of Michigan to prosecute Dr. Kevorkian for The Murder of Thomas Youk!!
DR. DEATH: Murder, schmurder!
JURY (chorus): Silent as the grave.
PROSECUTOR: I intend to prove that Dr. Kevorkian did, with calculation, kill his latest victim for publicity!!
MR. FEIGER: Objection!
MIKE WALLACE: I resent that!
DR DEATH: It was a . . . mercy killing.
JURY: (ECHOING) mercy killing, mercy killing, mercy killing . . .
And so the trial began, a trial to beg the question, "Is there justice, or is there just US?!"
A crowd of spectators clustered around watching. NDY member Zak handed out fliers denouncing Kevorkian's lethal compassion. Our message was clear--life with a disability is worth living, no matter what.
The verdict came through: Kevorkian was sentenced to LIFE--life in prison. Justice cleaved the villain with her sword. On March 22, the day of this street theater, all silently hoped that this verdict would hold true in Pontiac, Michigan as well.
Surprisingly, the message was very well taken. A lot of people in the crowd said they felt that Kevorkian did kill Thomas Youk and deserved to go to jail.
The irony was that most of Kevorkian's supporters were yuppies, smug in their world of materialism, so sure that death would be better than a life in a broken body. The ones who felt Kevorkian was guilty were the working-class folk. They could see how euthanasia could become de rigeur in America. How many HMO's would gladly give their patients an out-of-state referral for a quick visit to Dr. Death's office--especially if our health needs became too complicated, too costly.
In the Netherlands, we were told, people walk around carrying cards that say, "Please DO NOT kill me if I am in a serious accident." There, assisted suicide (an oxymoron if there ever was one) is accepted practice. In a survey of doctors and nurses, a large percentage admitted that they did hurry the hand of death on patients who they felt would be better off dead.
Local media came out to tape and interview us. A photographer from the Associated Press took a picture of me decked out as Dr. Death. It was a very successful piece of street theater.
It came as a surprise a few days later when we heard the real verdict: Dr. Death had been found guilty of second-degree murder.
Could it be that there was justice? Could it be that even in middle America someone believed that People with Disabilities were worthy of life?
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