January 25, 1999
Dear Not Dead Yet Members and Supporters:
The courts of Michigan are preparing to send a worldwide message about the euthanasia of people with disabilities. Will Jack Kevorkian be convicted and imprisoned? Or will he be acquitted once more, never to be charged again?
Could it happen? A serial killer of disabled people, out on the streets, free to kill again?
Yes. It’s happened before. Kevorkian has only been prosecuted in connection with the deaths of six of his estimated 130 victims.
Kevorkian’s last completed trial in 1996 involved his assisted suicides of two disabled women: (1) Marjorie Wantz, with a type of pelvic pain for which no physical cause could be found, and (2) Sherry Miller - who lost custody of her children when she got MS, whose husband left her, and who was "forced" to move in with her parents. Neither was terminally ill, both were disabled, like about two-thirds of his victims - people like us. No careful exploration of alternatives and safeguards. No suicide intervention or support. No advocacy for child custody, provision of needed personal assistance services - that would be too much trouble. The victims’ families almost always agree to the "voluntary suicide."
A non-disabled jury acquitted him anyway. It’s called jury nullification - when the jury votes contrary to law. The judge can overrule the jury, but the judge was pro-assisted suicide. So much for equal protection of the law when it comes to people with disabilities.
The risks in this new - and perhaps final - prosecution are very great. We have a new and stronger anti-assisted suicide law, but we have the same prosecutor, and the same pro-assisted suicide judge. The jury? - What do you think we can expect?
The most important new element in the upcoming trial is Not Dead Yet.
A dozen, then two dozen of us - the press out-numbered us two-to-three times over. We got some press attention, but the cameras remained focused on the face of Kevorkian, not the faces of those of us who represent his past, present and future victims.
Our only chance to change this picture is that Not Dead Yet must be there again at the trial - in numbers too big to ignore.
The whole world is watching what happens next. Last November, Michigan voters defeated a referendum to legalize assisted suicide - seniors and African Americans helped us defeat Proposition B. The law is now clear. The evidence is irrefutable.
But the press continues to be pro-Kevorkian. ABC Nightline responded to the 60 Minutes broadcast of the euthanasia of Thomas Youk by setting up a debate between two white women who head national pro-euthanasia organizations and a white male physician who opposes it. Nightline producers talked with Not Dead Yet for four days before the show, but ultimately decided against disability representation. (They wouldn’t take Paul Longmore or Diane Coleman, who have been on Nightline before, or Marca Bristo.)
Reporters ignore the fact that most of Kevorkian’s victims have been disabled, not terminal, ignore the discrimination and oppression that drove each of them to despair - ignore the injustice in a society that helps people die, but refuses to help us live with the basic respect and the simple supports we deserve.
We are all tired, as individuals, as advocates. Each significant gain in the struggle for our rights is followed by anti-disability backlash and the slow, grinding work of enforcement. Each day brings new letters, calls, faxes and emails calling upon us to do everything in our power to stop the injustice in all its forms. Olmstead, an ADA case on our right to freedom from institutions, will be decided this summer. How can we do more?
But at the core of all these struggles is the question which society is asking itself - would everyone else be better off without us? And, since most others believe that the answer is a self-evident "yes," it would be better if we did not exist, then how can society justify allocating scarce resources to us? This is the question the bio-ethicists are asking in their professional journals, and the newspapers in their editorials. Whether it’s a "voluntary" do-not-resuscitate order, a surrogate decision by a family member, an involuntary "futility guideline," or health insurance denials, we are being eliminated through the withholding of medical treatment. Pro-euthanasia advocates are now raising funds for expansion of their advocacy efforts to openly include people with non-terminal conditions. They have also called for involuntary euthanasia through judicial order, targeting "burdensome" family members. They distance themselves from Kevorkian when it suits them, but they won’t call for his imprisonment.
Kevorkian is their symbol. He compares himself to King and Ghandi. Only we can stop him, and turn back the tide - before it’s gone too far. This trial will be an historic event. Let’s make it our history - disability rights history.
What can you do? If you live in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana or Ohio, be there if you can. Contact Not Dead Yet for up-to-date information on the trial schedule and location. Even if you live too far away to adjust to changes in the trial schedule, things we cannot predict yet, turn the page and help someone else attend. Become an official card-carrying Not Dead Yet member, buy a sweatshirt or T-shirt, button or bumper sticker, a Credo for Support poster, or make a donation for the trial. This is your chance to make a difference.
Diane Coleman, Founder and President
Not Dead Yet! Opposing the Legalization of Assisted Suicide