The Best of Andy Rooney

Dr. Jack Kevorkian died June 3 at a hospital in Michigan after suffering from kidney failure and pulmonary problems. He was 83. Kevorkian helped more than 130 people to die who were terminally ill and in pain. And as you may know, physician-assisted suicide is illegal in Michigan.

I had the opportunity to meet him in 1996, when Don Hewitt, then Executive Producer of "60 Minutes," asked me to fly to Detroit to interview Kevorkian. It seemed that he agreed to be interviewed by "60 Minutes" only if I would be the one to ask the questions. Why would Jack Kevorkian want to talk to me? I felt fine!

Kevorkian was an interesting man. I found out during our interview that he was driven by his compassion to help people who were in desperate pain and suffering to end their lives humanely. He thought it was cruel to not allow people who had no hope of recovering from their illness, and who were suffering horribly, to seek help to die peacefully and on their own terms. He took on the mantle of helping people die with dignity.

I can remember the first question I asked: "Is there a good way of dying naturally?"

Kevorkian replied, "I don't know. I think there is. I think most people would pick sudden heart attack and in their sleep. We assume that's the best way to die, because you never know."

I would agree with Dr. Kevorkian. I don't think many people would disagree who've witnessed a loved one in the end stages of a terminal disease.

Then I asked him: "When do you decide that a person probably would be best to go"?

He replied, "Well, actually the patient decides when it's best to go."

"But is he or she a good judge?" I asked.

Kevorkian relied, "Only on what he or she wants. As a medical doctor, it is my duty to evaluate the situation with as much data as I can gather and as much expertise as I have and as much experience as I have to determine whether or not the wish of the patient is medically justified. The two must then coincide -- the wish of the patient and the medical justification."

I think the American public was puzzled by Kevorkian. They didn't know whether he was a medical philosopher or a nut.

In view of all of this, I remember asking him whether he thought he was the right guy to be representing the cause of doctor-assisted suicide in this country. His answer: "Maybe, sure. Where is he, where is she?"

At the end of the interview, I asked Kevorkian if he was worried about going to prison.

"No, never. Am I a criminal?" he replied. "The world knows I'm not a criminal. What are they trying to put me in jail for? You've lost common sense in this society because of religious fanaticism and dogma. You're basing your laws and your whole outlook on natural life on mythology. It won't work. That's why you have all these problems in the world."

Jack did go to prison after he was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 and was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison for personally injecting a man and causing his death. The man's death, by Dr. Kevorkian's hand, was televised on "60 Minutes" during an interview with Mike Wallace in 1998. The man had a terminal illness and had asked Kevorkian for help. The pathologist served eight years and was released in 2007 after he assured the state of Michigan that he would never help another person die.

Kevorkian's lasting legacy is that he brought the debate about the legality of physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia to the consciousness of the public. Whether you agreed with him or not, Kevorkian was a pioneer for the rights of the terminally ill.

And as a person, I remember thinking that he wasn't such a bad guy.

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