In the United States
today, laws try to prohibit Americans from enjoying the civil
liberties that we, as a country, fought for in our independence
from the British. Though certain civil liberties are not specifically stated in the Constitution
or Bill of Rights
, they are implied, such as freedom and equality for all
. When it was written, it applied only to land-owning white men, but now we see it as including every single person in the United States. But that would not have been the case if civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.
, Malcolm X
, and many more people had not spoke out against injustices done to them and their people as a whole. They, through civil disobedience, got the U.S. to change
the separate-but-equal clauses and made people realize
that black people are just the same as any other race. Jack Kevorkian is now doing the same as Martin Luther King Jr. did a generation
ago, in that he id fighting for the rights of those who want to choose their destiny in life and don’t wish to suffer
Civil disobedience is the willful act of disobeying set laws. These laws are broken because people may not believe that they are just and equal to all. Throughout history there have been numerous examples of civil disobedience. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” he noted those of historical importance who went against the laws of their time. He said, “I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’” This shows that even religious heroes, such as St. Augustine, did not believe in every law set forth by the government and that they did condone not following those laws that are unjust. Without the work of those who go against certain unjust laws, many laws would never change. King said, “the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.” Without that specific act of civil disobedience we might have remained a British colony much longer than we were.
It is freedom fighters like King and the organizers of the Boston Tea Party that allow people like Jack Kevorkian to go against the grain and help people. King fought for the rights of blacks; the Tea Party fought for the rights of the colonists; and Kevorkian is fighting for those who want to be able to choose how and when to end their lives. People are allowed to commit suicide all the time. Even if people fail in their attempt to kill themselves, they are not incarcerated for it. So to know that the courts will not allow a medically certified person to help those who have a terminal illness is immoral. People have control over their entire lives; it is tragic that they cannot even choose when they no longer want their lives to continue.
According to Boston lawyer Adrian Yount, in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court “rendered a unanimous decision on June 26, stating that no constitutionally protected right to die exists.” In other words, there is no right to die, probably because death is a gift of life. Those who are physically able to end their life and want to, do so in suicide. The court can do nothing about that choice. They cannot incarcerate the person, because the person is dead. Even when a person dies of a drug overdose, the person who sold them the drugs is not put in jail for murder. Just look at the actor Carroll O’Connor’s son. He died of a drug overdose and O’Connor tried to put the dealer in jail for murder, but the court could not say it was the drug dealer’s fault because he didn’t make O’Connor’s son take the drugs. It was a personal choice. Just as it was his personal choice to take illegal drugs and overdose from it, it should be the dying patient’s choice whether they want to be out of their suffering. It is people like Kevorkian, a true civil disobedient leader, who should not be considered guilty of murdering those who come to them for help in ending their lives.
Euthanasia, a word meaning “good death” in Greek, apparently has no real meaning to the American government. Many people who want euthanasia suffer so badly that someone else has care of them. For example, people with Alzheimer’s disease eventually become completely dependent on others to do things for them. For them, living is an unfair consequence that they have to endure due to laws that don’t help them.
Janet Adkins was 54 when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and in 1990 she had Jack Kevorkian help her out of her misery. After her death her doctor claimed in court that she had at least three or four more years of “normal” life ahead of her, but he then also said that her judgment was impaired at the time she decided on death. Kevorkian’s lawyer quickly noted the apparent contradiction in his comment. Kevorkian, by early 1997, had assisted 46 people to die. According to psychologist Tom Mabie Mix, Kevorkian did this because he saw the pain these people endured and he felt that they should no longer have to suffer.
Many rulings the Supreme Court renders are quite unfair, because there is nothing about the particular legal issue under review already stated in the law. That is why it takes so long to get new laws and change old ones. Lewis H. Van Dusen Jr., said in “Civil Disobedience: Destroyer of Democracy,” “the injustice rationale would allow a free right of civil resistance to be available always as a shortcut alternative to the democratic way of petition, debate and assembly.” This is the theme of many who do not believe in civil disobedience as constituting the solution to any problem. They believe that going through the judicial system is the best way to get things done and that going against the law to get a point across is the wrong way of getting something done. Many opponents of civil disobedience, such as Van Dusen, believe that the only real and just way to get a law changed is to go through the court system.
Kevorkian, along with many others, has tried to go through the court system but to no avail. In polls taken, 75% of people believe in assisted suicide, but when it comes to the ballot box the votes in assisted suicide, but when it comes to the ballot box the votes are so narrow that a vote against assisted suicide usually prevails. In Washington and California the measure was barely defeated, and in Oregon it passed but it is being blocked in the court by activists against assisted suicide. In Washington and New York, activists on the other side of the argument took the matter to a federal court of appeal where they were victorious, but once again anti-assisted suicide activists are appealing those decisions. It is obvious that supporters of assisted-suicide have sufficiently tried to make euthanasia legal, but every avenue they turn down finds zealots blocking their way.
The court system does not work for everyone. In many cases there are so many people against one’s cause that a person has to go to alternative methods of action. White aristocrats have enslaved Black Americans for centuries, and it has now only been a couple of decades during which blacks could genuinely claim that the US is, “the country of justice for all.” If King had listened to the clergymen who condemned his actions, and “waited” as they said, blacks in this country may have still been downtrodden today. What is Kevorkian had waited and not helped kill those people? They would still be here on earth suffering from hurtful diseases, or would have endured a painful death. Black people waited centuries for the government to help them, but the government rarely came to their rescue, and the government isn’t coming to the rescuer of dying people now either. King knew something had to be done immediately and that is what he did, and that is exactly what Kevorkian is now doing. If Van Dusen had to overcome an injustice in his life, by following his own strategy of going through the law, his problems may never have been solved in his lifetime because of how hard it is to change laws.
Considering that most of the people affected by the fact that assisted suicide is illegal are on their deathbeds, it is not easy for them to take their cases to court. Others who speak on their behalf must do so for them now. But by the time any law helping these dying people comes about, they will have suffered a great deal and probably have died. There is a great need for people like Jack Kevorkian, who are not afraid to break the law to help those in need. Barbara Dority of the Hemlock Society, a group that supports assisted suicide, says that “the right to die with dignity, in our own time and on our own terms [is] the ultimate civil right.” The right to die on one’s own terms is the greatest civil right we could possibly have, and it is appalling that it is not a right yet recognized in the law.