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Questions arise about CFS Suicide Case

  [ 172 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By by Roger Burns • • October 1, 1996

The American "suicide doctor" Jack Kevorkian was criticized by a medical official for assisting in the suicide on the night of August 15 of a CFS patient, and Dr. Kevorkian expressed some doubt as about his own decision in this case, although for a different reason.

Dr. Kevorkian has attracted much attention for openly assisting in suicides, On Thursday, August 15, Kevorkian reportedly assisted in the suicide of Judith Curren, 42, of Pembroke, Massachusetts. Curren had been a registered nurse and was accompanied on her last evening by her husband, Franklin Curren, 57, a psychiatrist.

Dr. Kevorkian's attorney told the Reuter news service that Judith Curren had been paralyzed and was in severe pain, and was suffering from several ailments including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. Kevorkian's published guidelines for assisting in suicide require that the person must have an incurable disease and be in intolerable pain, but they do not require that the illness be terminal. (For more information about Kevorkian's guidelines as developed by the Physicians for Mercy, see the references at the end of this article.)

Bad medical practice?

Linda Emanual, an ethics official of the American Medical Association, told Reuter, "This exemplifies the dangers of misuse that motivate our resistance to physician-assisted suicideā€¦[ Kevorkian's] threshold has always been so far below what we consider to be appropriate for professional practice, it's hard to imagine that he could go lower, but that's what he appears to have done." Emanuel was also indirectly quoted as saying that CFS normally does not affect the immune system, and that Curren may have been influenced by depression.

Circumstances cast some doubts

A report from the Associated Press (AP) on August 16 stated that, "Dr. Jack Kevorkian said he may not have helped his latest patient die if he had known that her husband was charged with assaulting her three weeks before she committed suicide." Dr. Kevorkian's lawyer told the Boston Herald that this episode did not influence Curren's decision to take her own life.

Franklin Curren told a Boston TV station that his domestic dispute was in fact centered on his opposition to his wife's decision to seek suicide assistance, and he had blocked her from attempting to contact Dr. Kevorkian. Franklin Curren also reported, according to AP, that "his bedridden wife suffered from an obsessive disorder and was refusing to take her anti-depressant medicine." The AP report further commented that this was "a possible indication that she was not fully competent to decide on suicide." Police in Massachusetts are now looking further into these reports.

Dr. Kevorkian' activities

A story in the New York Times on August 19 describes how Dr. Kevorkian's actions in recent years have seemingly become less controversial, but that legal issues may still remain to be resolved. Judith Curren's suicide was the 35th that Kevorkian has apparently assisted since 1990, when he began his public campaign to legitimize doctor-assisted suicide. The current case has gained much less attention than previous ones according to the story in the Times, which went on to speculate that Kevorkian has gone far to achieve his goal.

The state of Michigan, where Kevorkian does his work, has no specific law barring assisting suicide. Kevorkian has been charged twice with criminal action because of his activities, but he was set free by juries on both cases. Opponents of Kevorkian concede that prosecution of new cases against him would not be successful. Federal courts may have more to say about his general issue in the near future, however, and the U.S. Supreme Court may take up this topic this fall.

The Physicians for Mercy guidelines can be found on the web at: Click Here

Reprinted from the CFS-News Electronic Newsletter. Email: CFS-WIRE@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU

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