The Washington Post September 2-8, 1996
Picture yourself in this situation. You go to the doctor for a routine
physical. You look fine. You feel good. All those exhausting workouts at the
gym are finally starting to pay off and you actually stuck to that low fat, high
vitamin diet you’re doctor recommended. You have never felt better. You are
essentially the epitome of a healthy, fit human being. Then, out of nowhere,
you are diagnosed with a disorder of the nervous system accompanied by chronic
fatigue syndrome. The illness is permanent and there is no cure. It will only
progress and worsen with time, and all you can do is wait. What would you do?
If you were 42-year-old Judith Curren, a nurse and mother of two small
children, you’d be in close contact with the infamous suicide assessor, Dr. Jack
Kevorkian, a.k.a. “Doctor Death,” discussing your “options.” However, according
to an editorial published in The Washington Post, entitled “38 Assisted
Suicides,” many people believe that when it comes to matters such as life and
death, there are no options. The decision to live or die is made by God.
Judith Curren didn’t agree. With the assistance of Dr. Kevorkian, she died and
the retired pathologist presided at his 38th assisted suicide, fairly confident
that he will not be prosecuted or even suffer public disapproval.
Many of the people who have sought out Dr. Kevorkian have been terribly ill
and suffering, with no hope of long-term survival. Their stories offered
examples that built public sympathy for this cause. But from the beginning,
even among observers who believe that the desperately sick should be given help
to die, there have been questionable cases. For example, a woman in her fifties
allegedly suffering from early Alzheimer’s disease was fit enough to play tennis
with her adult son shortly before dying. Another-said to have had a painful,
progressive illness-was found to be free of disease by the county medical
The article argued this point, “Is it in any way merciful, compassionate,
or ‘healing’ (a favorite word of Kevorkian fans) to assist in the suicide of a
middle-aged woman who is tired and depressed and married to a man whom she
recently accused of attacking her and who then delivers her to Dr. Kevorkian?
Pain is controllable. Depression and fatigue can be ameliorated by drugs.
Violent husbands can be prosecuted and divorced. Suicide in such a case is
unreasonable. A doctor’s help in that course is unconscionable.”
I had mixed feelings on this editorial because I take into consideration
both sides of the argument. On one hand I understand Judith Curren’s decision.
I can imagine what it must feel like to wake up perfectly healthy and have your
whole life in front of you, and in the next minute be told you have an incurable
disease and that it’s going to eventually kill you. Living with that thought
alone would be too much for me. Here’s a woman that did everything right. It
just doesn’t seem fair that she will never see her children grow up, she will
not be able to continue her career in nursing and help save other’s lives, she
will not be around when the scientists celebrate finding a cure for the disease
that claimed her life. In many ways, this woman has suffered enough. Why
prolong the inevitable and possible pain and suffering that will escalate with
time? As humanitarians, we should want to put this woman out of her misery.
But fortunately or unfortunately, there is another side to us. One that
wants to be strong and hold on for just a little bit longer. One who believes
they will be the first cured when science makes another medical breakthrough. A
side that wants to raise it’s children instead of watching over them. I believe,
for most people, this stronger, more powerful side will conquer death and
reinstate hope. After all, life is the most valuable gift we have, and there
shouldn’t be any two sides to that.