Larry King Live
Dr. Kevorkian and the Pending Supreme Court Decision On Physician-Assisted Suicide
Aired January 14, 1997 - 9:00 p.m. ET
LARRY KING, HOST, CNN LARRY KING LIVE: Now joining us from Detroit, Dr. Jack Kevorkian. The -- if I have to tell you who he is, you have a major problem by now. And Geoffrey Fieger -- if I have to tell you who he is, too, you have a problem. Mr. Fieger, of course. is Dr. Kevorkian's attorney.
The Supreme Court last week heard two hours of arguments regarding physician-assisted suicide. They were dealing with laws which banned it in the states of New York and Washington, which were struck down by lower courts. Dr. Kevorkian, were you present at the court?
Dr. JACK KEVORKIAN: No.
KING: Did you read the questions and answers as asked and answered by the jurists?
KING: Why not?
KEVORKIAN: Not interested.
KING: Wait a minute. You're not interested in the Supreme Court hearing case that might have an effect on what you do?
KEVORKIAN: No. The Supreme Court is irrelevant to this issue.
KING: How do you mean?
KEVORKIAN: It's not a legal issue, it's a medical issue. It doesn't matter what the Supreme Court says. This is always a medical problem. It's always ethical. It doesn't matter what the court says.
KING: If the court says it is illegal, and then you perform one, and they...
KEVORKIAN: We go to court. We go to trial.
GEOFFREY FIEGER, ATTORNEY FOR JACK KEVORKIAN: Larry, they'll never say it's illegal. The most they can say is it's not protected by the Constitution.
KING: I see, they can say a state can make a law about it, right?
FIEGER: Right, but right then and there, Oregon has already passed a law, and as soon as they get that federal judge out of there who blocked the law and thwarted the will of the people of Oregon, it's going to be permitted in Oregon regardless.
KING: How did the arguments go, Geoffrey?
FIEGER: The arguments went very poorly, and the reason is that Tribe (ph) and the other attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case took an absolutely reprehensible position, and that was that you could establish some type of constitutional right on a very limited basis, only with people who were supposedly terminally ill, and no medical school teaches that, within six months.
How could the Justices fashion such a ridiculous constitutional right? Every patient is different. You can't determine whether somebody is terminal or in great pain, as many of the Justices point out...
KING: So Tribe made a mistake?
FIEGER: Not only did they make a mistake, but they distanced themselves from the person responsible for them being there. That is Jack Kevorkian. Since when do they have to apologize for a man standing up for what's right? And they seemed like they had to apologize for Jack Kevorkian. Big mistake.
KING: Dr. Kevorkian, now, the charges against you recently have been dropped by the new district attorney, is that right, the new prosecutor?
KING: Are you now -- where do you stand now legally, doctor?
KEVORKIAN: I guess there's a trial pending in Ionia, up in the center of the state.
KING: A different prosecutor?
KEVORKIAN: Yeah. Another idiot.
KING: Try to be a little direct, doctor. How many assisted suicides now?
FIEGER: No, no, we are not talking about that, Larry. You know we've always stated that, first of all...
FIEGER: ... with Michigan residents -- because.
KING: I never knew that. You mean, you've never said how many you've done?
FIEGER: Have never stated it because Michigan residents are done quietly. It's a matter between the physician, the patient and their family. And it's just better that the privacy issue exists so that we don't have the type of explosive and derogatory coverage that often is associated with Dr. Kevorkian. KING: All right, fair enough. Then this is fair. Dr. Kevorkian, every doctor that I've ever interviewed has a regret, "I should have done this in this case, I should have done that. Maybe I should have tried this." Do you have any?
KEVORKIAN: Not for what I've done. The only regrets...
KING: Any case you might say, "Maybe that one I shouldn't have assisted?"
KEVORKIAN: Oh, no. I never would proceed unless I was sure that the patient deserved the service that the patient wanted.
FIEGER: What I find so amazing, Larry, is that the critics of Kevorkian are never people who know anything about the patient, know anything about Dr. Kevorkian or me, or know really anything about the case. Not one family member associated with any of the cases has ever complained. Instead, it's some pundit a thousand miles away. Where do they get their information, if not from us? And they sure don't get it from us.
KING: In Florida, someone is trying to commit suicide, is that correct? Someone with AIDS? And they had arguments today on that case.
FIEGER: I'm sure they do every day. And what's amazing to me is they've never criminalized suicide or an attempt to commit suicide. How can the Supreme Court rationalize making a noncrime, that is suicide, or even attempting to commit suicide, and assisting a noncrime. There's no place in American justice where that's true.
This is pure and utter attempt to enforce religion, Larry.
KING: Dr. Kevorkian, are you saying there should be no law dealing with this? This is strictly doctor-patient?
KEVORKIAN: Well, there's no law telling a doctor how to do a heart transplant, is there?
FIEGER: Except to do it competent.
KING: He has to be board certified in surgery to do a heart transplant.
KING: Not every cardiologist can do it.
KEVORKIAN: Well, maybe we should have board certification for doctors doing this. That's a good way to control it, that only certain doctors are allowed to do it. KING: Would that be a good idea?
KEVORKIAN: Sure. All they have to do to solve this whole controversy is have the medical profession come forward and lay the guidelines down, and that's it. The guidelines say only certain doctors can do it, and if you don't that's unethical and we're going to punish you.
KING: And you would have not problem with that?
KEVORKIAN: I'll stop doing this as soon as they come forward with guidelines and other doctors start doing it. I'll stop.
FIEGER: Why should you stop?
KEVORKIAN: Because that's what they want me to do.
FIEGER: That's wrong because, I'll tell you, he has more experience in this area than any physician in the United States and perhaps the world. He's spent more time at this than any specialty in medical science. Why criticize him?
KING: For some reason, I guess, maybe this is hard to answer -- you annoy people. I've had many people guests say that I agree with it in principle, but I have a tough time with the messenger.
Let Jack answer this, Geoffrey.
FIEGER: Last night you had Dan Rather say that.
KING: That's right.
FIEGER: Dan Rather has never called us, Dan Rather has never spoke to us. And if not him, tell me the doctor. Tell me who.
KING: Jack, do you wonder why you bug people?
KEVORKIAN: Yeah. Because I'm very forthright and strident.
KING: You know you're strident?
KEVORKIAN: Absolutely. I'm strident purposely because I'm angry at such an idiocy trying to make this a crime, trying to make it a crime to help a suffering human being. Larry, the AMA and the medical profession says the humane way now is to allow patients to starve and thirst to death.
If you did that with an animal, you'd be in jail immediately. Can you imagine someone bringing a starving dog -- you see it every day in the newspaper.
KING: You mean, that's accepted day?
KEVORKIAN: Starving animals, your heart is broken over that, and they want to punish somebody for that. Yet that's called humane by the American Medical Association. No wonder I'm strident, Larry. In the face of such insanity masquerading as authority, who wouldn't be strident?
KING: We'll be right back with Dr. Jack Kevorkian and Geoffrey Fieger. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
KING: We're back. Let's take a call for Dr. Jack Kevorkian, his attorney Geoffrey Fieger, both in Detroit. To Orlando, Florida, hello.
KING: Orlando, yes, go ahead.
CALLER: Good evening , gentlemen, thank you for taking my call.
CALLER: I have very high regard for all of you. My question is I don't understand the difference in having a living will, with written "Do Not Resuscitate" versus going to Dr. Kevorkian and requesting end of suffering.
FIEGER: Absolutely no difference. That was argued in front of the Supreme Court, Larry. That's a great question. How the Supreme Court could ever differentiate between someone who writes in a living will, "when I am unconscious, you can end my suffering by pulling out the breathing tube or the feeding tube," but if you don't have a disease that puts you unconscious and you're begging the doctor for pills, they can't give you the same benefit. You can't justify that intellectually or legally. You have to come up with a phony excuse and if the Supreme Court does it, it's phony.
KING: How do you think the Court is going to rule, Geoffrey.
FIEGER: I think the court's going to rule -- they're essentially cowards. They don't want to take the step the court did in Roe vs. Wade. And at a minimum, I think they're going to find against the plaintiffs in the case.
KING: So, therefore, you're saying some states may have it and some states may not?
FIEGER: Clearly, just like it was before Roe vs. Wade, it'll be legal in Oregon and other states will eventually come around. The Supreme Court is not prepared to address this issue.
KING: Doctor, when you did your first assisted suicide, did you ever think it would come to this?
KING: What did you think? Did you think it would be just accepted? Did you think life would just go on and you would continue to do it, and no big deal?
KEVORKIAN: Well, it was sort of like that. My sisters assisted me, and I couldn't have done it without them. We -- we were emotionally drained, and on way back we stopped -- we stopped at a -- a KMart, went in and had a coffee and a doughnut and sat there, and I said, "you know, maybe we can try four -- three or four more cases and I can write an article showing how it can be done and submit it to a medical journal." That's all. That's all I thought was going to happen.
KING: Wow. We'll be back with our remaining moments with Jack Kevorkian and Geoffrey Fieger right after this.
KING: We're back with Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his attorney Geoffrey Fieger. We go to Washington, D.C. Hello.
CALLER: Yes, good evening, gentlemen. I want to thank you, Dr. Kevorkian, and your highly qualified attorney for what you are doing for the American people who are suffering needlessly. Health care is so expensive in this country because a vast army of parasitic bureaucrats feeds off them as a fortune of the sick.
KING: You have a question?
CALLER: My question to doctor Kevorkian is do you think financial consideration should be part of the equation? I am a two- time breast cancer survivor and it has bankrupted my husband and me in this country.
KEVORKIAN: I don't think -- well, yes. But I don't think finances should -- money should be involved in what I am doing. And as a service to a patient. But I am sure money is involved in the equation as you state, yes.
FIEGER: It's in the opposition.
KING: Yeah, the costs of something, but someone shouldn't be...
FIEGER: The opposition to Kevorkian is motivated by money. Do you know how much money they lose by not keeping you alive against your will?
KING: You really believe that that's part of this?
FIEGER: Are you kidding me? The amount of money that would be lost by hospitals, health care professionals and nursing homes if somebody was allowed to say, "Enough is enough, I am not going to be warehoused here"? You better believe it.
KING: Based on the juries, do you think, Geoffrey, that most people agree with what your client is doing?
FIEGER: I think most people have common sense, and the answer is overwhelmingly, resoundingly, Larry, yes. KING: Dr. Kevorkian, do you hear from a lot of people?
KEVORKIAN: Oh, yes. Every day.
KING: Are you constantly, by the way, asked from people in Michigan and out of Michigan to assist in suicides? Is this a fairly common request?
KING: How do you deal with all of that?
KEVORKIAN: It's hard. Right now with the legal harassment, I can't help many patients who need the help and they're suffering. Some have died naturally in the meantime after a lot of suffering, others have been helped by friends or relatives to kill themselves in the meantime in furtive ways, clandestine ways. It's not -- it's not pleasant. We don't like it.
KING: Do you think other doctors are doing it and we don't know about it?
KING: You do?
KEVORKIAN: Yeah, but not in all cases that deserve it because they can't. In some cases, the patients aren't on drugs, so there's no way that they can make it look like an accident.
FIEGER: You understand the purpose of the harassment, Larry, is not so much to get Kevorkian, it's to intimidate other doctors, it's to put the head out in front of the gates of the tower of London to say "Look what'll happen to you if you do it, doctors."
KING: Thank you both very much as always. Dr. Jack Kevorkian, his battling attorney Geoffrey Fieger, we thank them for being with us.
Tomorrow night a major program on sports, Charles Barkley. We'll have a great current athlete, Charles Barkley; a great former athlete, Frank Gifford; one of the major agents, Lee Steinberg; and print journalists Mike Lupica (ph). He's done a great book on all of this. And broadcast journalist Bob Costas. We'll cover it all tomorrow night. The state of sport in America. Thanks for joining us, from Washington. This is Larry King. Good night.
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