Share “‘Dr. Death' makes a call

‘Dr. Death' makes a call
And local students answer

By John Estus Modified: August 19, 2007 at 8:33 am •  Published: August 19, 2007
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/> He once attached a ball and chain to his leg and appeared in court and also burned court orders. It was all part of his controversial crusade to legalize assisted suicide.

When Farha asked if his flamboyant style led to his incarceration, Kevorkian's voice quickly sharpened: He shouted: "All the petitions and all the writing doesn't help. You must take action, and the action of necessity must be flamboyant because of its controversial nature.”

Today, Oregon is the only state that allows physician-assisted suicide. Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium also allow it.

Farha then asked if Kevorkian thought he could have been acquitted if he hired an attorney for the Youk case. Kevorkian chose to represent himself, despite being acquitted in previous trials.

Again, Kevorkian's voice rose to a boil.

"I didn't want success, I told you. I wanted the conviction!”

Students laughed when he added: "I'm not stupid. I know what I'm doing.”

Fear
Kevorkian repeatedly pointed to fear as a reason the public generally disagrees with his stance that assisted suicide is an inherent human right.

"Fear controls this country,” Kevorkian said.

He quoted French philosopher Voltaire, saying "it is dangerous to be right on matters in which the established authorities are wrong.” The Patriot Act was one example Kevorkian gave of fear dictating people's decisions.

He called the U.S a "Dark Age society.”

Assisted death: why, when
Kevorkian's tone softened when he explained the underlying reason for his stance on assisted suicide. "I don't like to see suffering humanity.”

But he then revealed something Farha said he'd never heard Kevorkian say before. Farha still expresses surprise when hearing Kevorkian say that psychiatric conditions could, in some instances, warrant assisted suicide.

"That's an extreme position,” Farha said this summer. "I wish I would have thought to ask him which conditions he was referring to.”

One student asked if Kevorkian, who said he is agnostic, would still believe euthanasia was ethical if he was a Christian.

"Euthanasia has nothing to do with religion. It's a medical problem,” Kevorkian said. "The person himself, the patient, has the right to choose.”

History
An automated voice interrupted the conversation: "You have one minute left.”

The professors thanked Kevorkian for his "courage” to stand up for his beliefs and make the secret call.

"They (the students) knew they had heard history,” Farha said.

"You people have had a very unusual experience,” Holmes told the students.



Bryan FarhaOklahoma City University professor teaches behavioral studies in education, but set the call up for students at the University of Central Oklahoma.
The secret call: how it happened
Kevorkian's secret call was an unexpected surprise.

Bryan Farha, an Oklahoma City University professor of behavioral studies in education, had been sending questions to Kevorkian that students in his Death and Dying class had for Kevorkian for about two years. Kevorkian's trial consultant and friend, Ruth Holmes, would relay the questions to Kevorkian while he was in prison and call Farha's class with the answers. Kevorkian never joined the calls because prison officials wouldn't allow it.

About that time, University of Central Oklahoma sociology professor Brenda Chappell heard about the unique situation and asked Farha to arrange and co-conduct similar correspondence for students in her Social Problems course.

Days before a scheduled call between Holmes and Chappell's class, the professors learned Kevorkian's defiant nature hadn't soured behind bars; Dr. Death was considering defying his holders' rules and speaking directly to the students.

Farha joined Chappell and about 45 of her students in the UCO classroom on Jan. 30, 2004. Through clever use of his prison-approved call list and some unorthodox conference calling, Kevorkian reached the students.

"I was just amazed he would jeopardize his position in prison,” Chappell said. "He did this for a group of people who'd never met him.”

Why he called
"He thinks the hope for the future is young people,” Holmes said. "He has almost given up on educating older people because they don't have the power that the energetic, young people do.”

Kevorkian's respect for Farha was another reason he made the secret call, she said.

"We knew that was a man who was in the process of educating and informing in a way they (students) should be given options to talk about subjects and things that should not be shoved under the carpet,” Holmes said.

A learning tool
Playing the tape "never fails” to stimulate student engagement to a level "almost off the charts,” Farha said.

The intent of playing the tape isn't to sway students to support Kevorkian, but to encourage healthy discussion of controversial issues related to death and dying, Farha said.

"We have an angle on Kevorkian that I don't think anyone else has,” Farha said.

He now plays the recording for students in various courses each semester. During the Death and Dying course, the Kevorkian recording is played during a chapter on the legal aspects of death.

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