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Posted on June 1, 2009 at 6:42 AM

So Jack Kevorkian’s dream has come true. The flamboyant inventor of the Thanatron and part-time painter of rotting skulls will get his much longed for appearance on the silver screen. Barry Levinson the director who brought us the fictional, ‘Homicide: Life on the
Street’, has recruited Al Pacino (Al Pacino!!) to star in a forthcoming movie about Kevorkian. The non-fictional flick should be titled ‘Homicide: Death in a Van.’ Whatever it is called, it should prove to be quite a challenge to Hollywood sensibilities. Jack Kevorkian always presented himself as the underdog, hard at work for the little people, the helpless and the hopeless. Hollywood loves that story line.

But in truth, Jack was always all about Jack as much as the strangers he briefly met and dispatched. When I asked him once if he was aware that one of his victims had a long history of severe depression and had spend many years in a psychiatric hospital he snorted and replied ‘How am I supposed to know all the details of her life?” Far be it from Jack to cloud his assessment of the reliability of a person’s request to die with the details of the person’s life.

There is a huge probability that Barry and Al will find the storyline of the principled doc bucking the establishment irresistible and Jack will find himself beatified on film. That would be most unfortunate. Jack Kevorkian, despite his skill in administering potassium chloride to the fearful, disabled, lonely and inadequately treated was a poor choice of leader for the movement to legalize assisted suicide. His personality and ego kept getting in the way of his heartfelt desire to offer assisted suicide to anyone who requested it. And his lack of knowledge of those he assisted in dying or killed outright made him such an easy target for critics that he wound up setting back the legalization of assisted suicide by many years. When Oregon and later Washington states finally did legalize assisted suicide that did follow closely what Jack had done and then made every effort to insure that there algorithm for assisted suicide bore absolutely no relationship to Jack’s same day ‘meet, greet and annihilate’ service.

Levinson is no slouch when it comes to making movies. And Al Pacino is certainly familiar with killers having turned Michael Corleone into an American movie icon. Maybe they can avoid the temptation to canonize Jack. I wouldn’t bet on it.

Arthur Caplan, PhD

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