Pubdate: Fri, 10 Jun 2011
Source: Battle Creek Enquirer (MI)
Copyright: 2011 Battle Creek Enquirer
Author: Erick Williams, Lawyer in East Lansing, previously served as 
an administrative law judge presiding over medical licensing hearings.


Few people realize how much Jack Kevorkian accomplished for people in

By 1990, the "drug war" had thoroughly intimidated doctors. Undercover
cops, posing as patients in pain, visited doctors' offices to entice
them to prescribe pain drugs. When doctors responded to those fake
patients by prescribing pain drugs, they often got arrested.
Prosecutors raided doctors' offices, seized patient files, singled out
the charts of the most heavily-medicated patients, and prosecuted the
doctors for giving out too many narcotics to those people. Law
enforcement officials made careers of putting doctors in jail, and
this practice had the effect of discouraging the treatment of pain.

Doctors tried to resist the drug warriors and protect their suffering
patients, but doctors as a group don't have much political clout, and
their mild-mannered, academic style was no match for the sensational
stories and the scare tactics that police and prosecutors used.

By 1990 doctors were overpowered. Unable to protect their patients,
and unable to change the laws, they learned to protect themselves in
more anti-social ways. To stay out of trouble, they gave fewer
narcotics to people in pain.

Medical patients often felt abandoned. Terminal patients died in
unnecessary agony. Desperate people, denied the relief of pain drugs,
demanded the right to die.

Some doctors quietly began helping their patients die. But it was Dr.
Kevorkian's in-your-face challenge that created the political space.
Kevorkian went public with techniques that were used in private. No
jury would convict him; the legislature could not pass laws against
him. Kevorkian kept pushing the issue, going more and more public,
until much more powerful players, including the Catholic Church,
decided to stop him.

Catholic teachings oppose euthanasia as much as abortion. And in the
political world, pro-life forces have the clout to match that of
police, prosecutors and other drug war lobbyists.

People who deeply understood the political situation realized that to
stop Kevorkian they had to treat pain effectively.

The laws that ultimately passed not only made assisted suicide illegal
but also encouraged practitioners to treat pain and gave them
protection when they did so. Before Kevorkian, doctors and nurses
all-too-frequently were prosecuted for aggressively treating pain.
After Kevorkian, those prosecutions were rare.

Today when you visit a hospital, you may see a chart on the wall that
encourages you to report your pain. If you are a medical patient,
someone is likely to ask if you are in pain. They may ask, "How strong
is your pain, on a scale of 1 to 10?" If you have pain, they will
quickly bring effective drugs. That did not happen before Kevorkian.
He, more than any other single person, is responsible for the new practice.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.