|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Sunday, April 11, 1999
Death or Angel of Mercy
self-created political crisis
dacoity in Poona Judges court
IS he Doctor Death or an Angel of Mercy? The 70-year old, Dr Jack Kevorkian, who has created history in the medical world and posed the biggest-ever dilemma to the legal profession, has amply qualified to be called both. The question being asked is whether he has helped or hindered the 20-year-long campaign for the right to die? Dr Kevorkian has assisted 130 suicides since 1990.
Derek Humphry widely regarded as the father of the assisted suicide movement says: Kevorkian has been of enormous value because of the extensive publicity that his acts of compassionate help in dying have attracted. Humphry describes Kevorkian as a determined man with great integrity who has forced the medical profession to reconsider its outdated position on euthanasia.
Kevorkian kicked up a row as far back as 1989 by publishing an article, The Last Fearsome Taboo; Medical Aspect of Planned Death, outlining his proposed system of planned deaths in suicide clinics, including medical experimentation on patients. Using $30 worth of scrap parts scrounged off from garage sales and hardware stores, he built his suicide machine on the kitchen table of his apartment in 1988, almost a year after he supervised the death of Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimers disease (a form of premature senile decay). Her death using the suicide machine occurred in Kevorkians 1968 model Volkswagen in a park. The District Court Judge dismissed the murder charge against Kevorkian.
Since then there was no looking back for the Angel of Mercy. Patients suffering from incurable diseases used the suicide machine to get rid of the intolerable suffering, pain and torture. The patients whom he helped end his life included those suffering from multiple sclerosis and a variety of cancers. Most pathetic of them was the case of a 52-year old woman suffering from lung and brain cancer. She died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the residence of Kevorkians assistant.
Kevorkian had landed in court many times but each time he was acquitted; thanks to his lawyer. His attorney successfully argued that his client had only been relieving the suffering of the patients who administered their own suicide. In September last year the Angel of Mercy administered the deadly mixture of drugs on a terminally ill patient himself and recorded the entire procedure on videotape. The tape was shown on CBS. Time magazine reported Kevorkian as saying: It is not necessarily murder.......it doesnt bother me what you call. I know what it is.
This time Kevorkian declined to have a lawyer and preferred to plead his case all by himself. Why did he choose such a disastrous course knowing full well that in the USA, the conviction of a first-degree, premeditated murder meant a life-term sentence. His explanation was that he had to raise a public discussion on euthanasia and the medium of TV could get the issue to the stage quickly. He has succeeded in this task, but can he be saved from the clutches of law?
Kevorkian has no family and not many friends; in fact, he has no friend. His only sister who is, perhaps, his only friend, looks after him. Another is a medical supply salesman who used to sell carbon monoxide for the death machine and sometimes played poker with him. The doctor is also a painter, combining his understanding of the human anatomy with his fascination for death. As far back as 1960, he enrolled in an adult education oil painting class. After a gap of many years, he returned to the canvass to promote and fund his crusade to legalise assisted suicide.
Born of Armenian immigrant parents in 1928, Kevorkian graduated from the University of Michigan medical school with a speciality in pathology in 1952. Within four years, he published an article, The Fundus Oculi and the Determination of Death, discussing his efforts to photograph the eyes of dying patients, a practice that earned him the nickname Doctor Death. He became the chief pathologist at Saratoga General Hospital in Detroit in 1970, quit his career in pathology within a year, moved on to California and invested his life savings in directing and producing a feature movie based on Handels Messiah. With no distributors, the movie flopped.
Since then he has published numerous articles on his pet subject and actively campaigned for the cause; assisted suicide movement. People in the USA seek his advice and help, but he does not make his telephone number or e-mail available. He, however, makes his assistance public knowledge as part of his determined campaign to change attitudes and law on physician-assisted suicide.
The number of women on
his list of assisted suicides is more than men and, to
some, it appears intriguing. Dr Kevorkians
explanation is quit explicit. I find women stronger
here too. They know the strength. Of course, I knew that
from my mother. She was a very strong woman. But women
are, first of all, more practical than men. Their mind is
boggled with a bunch of hair-splitting philosophy and
idealism, and women wonder why they, die for principle.
But women are very practical. And thats why I think
they can face it better than men; they are more in tune
with nature than men are.
THE BJP, the Congress and the Third Front are sitting with their fingers crossed at the events taking place. The interesting aspect is that all the three are equally responsible for this crisis. All of them are repenting too. Atal Behari Vajpayees aides are saying that if Ranga (Kumaramangalam) had not opened his mouth, things would not have gone thus far. Jayamma would not have recalled her ministers from the cabinet. Ranga, they say, was provoked into daring her by Advani camps Gurumurthy. On the other front, many of the Congressmen could be seen lamenting as to why Sonia Gandhi went to Swamys tea party. Her presence for the sake of formality was described as a possible earthquake. And now, even Jayamma is said to be amazed at the events. If those leaders in the Third Front who are talking to AIADMK MPs are to be believed, she is not sure whether Sonia will seek her help in forming the government.
Jayamma is reaching Delhi on Monday. And this time the things will be entirely different. Other party leaders wont be doing rounds to her abode. She will have to seek time from others. Sonia Gandhi will give her time only after Jayamma has brought the Third Front leaders to terms. Indeed, the political weather has suddenly become turbulent and freak. Yet, Sonia Gandhi is sitting pretty. She is silent and keeping her cards close to her chest. On the other hand, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Arjun Singh and Ghulam Nabi Azad all others are beating about the bush. Even Swamy who thought he could don the role of a catalyst in toppling the Vajpayee government, is in the dark.
* * * *
BJPs war council is brimming with overconfidence. There is nothing unusual about it. Even in 1996, when Vajpayee formed the government for 13 days, they were in the same belligerent mood. A member of the council even believes that Jayalalitha will return back to the BJP fold and her MPs will continue to support the government. She has not announced withdrawal of support to the government. When she comes to Delhi, and is unable to extract her pound of flesh from Sonia or the Third Front, she might roll back. Ranga is right when he says she changes her ideas five times a day. This time too, she will change her idea. Vajpayees strategists are also banking on the support of 38 Congress MPs, who they say, owe allegiance to Sharad Pawar. And some are hopeful that the DMK, the TMC, the BSP and Chautala would ultimately support the BJP. Though by this Friday, their hopes on the DMK and the TMC had started waning. Still another section believes it will be able to manage a few MPs of Mulayam and Laloo to abstain from voting. And the latest is that even Sonia Gandhi may ask her MPs to walk out of Lok Sabha on some pretext when the voting takes place. Because she does not want to align herself with the Third Front.
* * * *
The Congress high command is in a dilemma. The biggest dilemma is whether to bring a no confidence motion against the Vajpayee government or not. Jayalalitha has thrown the ball in Sonias court. All the forces inimical to the BJP have joined hands to topple it. But, the Congress is yet to make up its mind. There were four different signals from 24 Akbar Road. The party spokesman parried a question whether the Congress would bring a no-confidence motion against the government; Sonia Gandhi once again said that there were no talks going on between her and Jayamma; Then, Pranab Mukherjee told media persons that the Congress might help the government in passing the budget. It is obvious, Sonia does want to take the blame for the fall of the government on to herself. In this context, the Congress silence over Bhagwat and JPC was noticeable this week.
However, the Congress cannot afford to give the impression that it is saving the BJP government. And now, if the government survives, the Third Front will blame the Congress for this. The Congress is in a Catch 22 situation. If Sonia had avoided going to Swamys tea party, Jayalalitha could not have caused tremors. The way Jayamma has usurped the Congress plank of Bhagwat and JPC and playing her cards, to steer clear of it will be a test of Sonias political acumen.
* * * *
BJP leaders are dumb founded. Everybody is taking it with a pinch of salt. Yet, some would say with disbelief, My God, et tu, Advani! Whispers are turning loud. Many have started asking why he did not come to the function where Vajpayee released a commemorative stamp in the memory of RSS founder Dr Hedgewar? Then, he boycotted the function held to launch the DD Sports Channel. The next day when Vajpayee was celebrating the first anniversary of his government, Advani again preferred to be away from Delhi. And finally, when Vijay Goel was according a queens welcome to Jayamma, Advani not only stayed away from the party, but also snubbed Goel for holding such a party. Goel thought that the party was over. But, mercifully, Vajpayee stepped in to comfort his most faithful disciple.
* * * *
It was actually, Vijay Goels party that stirred the hornets nest. Subramaniam Swamy was just holding a tea party in Jayalalithas honour where all other Opposition leaders, other than Sonia Gandhi, were to get a common platform to share their views. In his initial scheme of things, Swamy had not planned to invite Sonia Gandhi to the party. But, when he learnt that Vijay Goel was hosting a parallel party to felicitate Jayamma and that the Prime Minister was also coming to it, he vowed that he would see to it that Sonia Gandhi comes to his party. And that a political storm brews from the tea cups there. Swamy has won the first round.
This time Madan Lal Khurana came true to his word. Perhaps for the first time, he materialised his threat of acting as the human bomb. And even as he hit Sushma Swaraj with his letter, threatening to expose her links with Romesh Sharma and her misdemeanours as minister, Lal Krishana Advani swung into action. Though, Khurana had not put much RDX into his bomb, Advani wondered what the former had up his sleeves. So, as soon as he shot of his letter to Advanis protege Sushma, Advani called him to his office and in an effort to assuage his hurt feelings assigned him with the job of talking to Om Prakash Chautala. Khurana might put off his plans to explode the second round of bomb.
It was the inaugural flight of Indian Airlines to Dubai. The passengers included ministers of the Vajpayee cabinet. On board was a very beautiful damsel. Everyone was wondering as to whose guest she was. The IA officials did refused to own her. She was not a journalist either. Throughout the journey she remained silent. Whosoever she smiled at, thought he had attained a lot. There were whispers galore. When the entourage landed at the destination, the guests were taken to a hotel booked by the carrier. But when the headcount began, the officials were amazed. Two people were found missing. One of them was the damsel. And the other a minister. The officials were worried. But another minister comforted them. He told them they would be back before we leave for India. And truly, they were there. On the return journey, none of the co-passengers saw them talking to each other. As if they did not know each other.
* * * *
Chandraswami is upbeat
these days. He is claiming that it is the Bugla Mukhi
Yagya which he is performing for Prime Minister Atal
Behari Vajpayee, that is creating consternation and
confusion in the Opposition camp. The yagya has been
organised by Ranjan Bhattacharya, the foster son-in-law
of the Prime Minister. But, his detractors ask, is it not
this yagya which has caused the earthquake in a
relatively peaceful New Delhi. After all, can one ignore
the relations Chandraswami has had with Chandra Shekhar
who has vowed to oust this government or his relations
with the senior Congress leaders.
THE Poona District Judges Court was the scene of a daring dacoity last night when the Court Nazirs Office was broken into and property worth something like Rs 15,000 was carried off.
The Nazirs Office forms a separate building on the other side of the railway line from that on which the District Court is situated. There were two watchmen in charge of it, one pensioned police constable and the other a regular watchman.
About midnight last night, a gang of a dozen men went to the building and while two of them overpowered the pensioned watchman and sat on him with knives in their hands the rest of the gang broke into the office. They smashed some large boxes in which ornaments, mostly of gold, were kept. This property belonged to minors of deceased persons and some also formed part of the exhibits in a case now before the court.
The second watchman, on
hearing the noise made by the robbers, came round from
the back of the house to learn what was happening but was
struck down with a blow which is said to have fractured
his skull. The robbers then made off with the property
they had secured. Word was conveyed to Mr Mild, District
Judge, who lives not far from the Court House, and on
visiting the scene he had the injured watchman removed to
the Sasoon Hospital where the latter lies in a precarious
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