Beyond the Good Death: The Anthropology of Modern Dying

Beyond the Good Death: The Anthropology of Modern Dying

Beyond the Good Death: The Anthropology of Modern Dying

Beyond the Good Death: The Anthropology of Modern Dying

Synopsis

In November 1998, millions of television viewers watched as Thomas Youk died. Suffering from the late stages of Lou Gehrig's disease, Youk had called upon the infamous Michigan pathologist, Dr Jack Kevorkian, to help end his life on his own terms. This work examines the changes in our concept of death over the last several decades.

Excerpt

On a November evening in 1998, a national television audience watched Thomas Youk die at his home in Waterford, Michigan. He did not expect millions to witness his death, but his attending physician thought it was a good idea. Youk actually died several months before the broadcast, but what the audience saw that night on the CBS show 60 Minutes was not a studio recreation but raw footage of his last breath. At fifty-two, he suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, in which nerve cells slowly die and muscles atrophy until the heart no longer receives signals from the brain and stops. Like many ALS victims, Youk was lucid but had so little muscular control he feared he would die from choking on his saliva. He and his family were desperate and so contacted a Michigan pathologist with a reputation for assisting in cases like his. Dr. Jack Kevorkian agreed to help.

With over 130 assisted suicides to his credit, Kevorkian was at the height of his notoriety as “Dr. Death.” Flaunting that, he brought his videotape of Youk’s death to CBS, offering it to Mike Wallace for use on his program. Wallace agreed, and on November 22, Kevorkian narrated the video and explained why he wanted it shown nationally. “Either I go or they go,” he said of the prosecutors who for years tried to get homicide convictions from reluctant juries. But Kevorkian’s challenge to the courts in the Youk case was different. Previously, Kevorkian’s clients activated his “suicide machine” themselves, turning a knob or pulling a handle to start the flow of fatal chemicals. But Youk was paralyzed and could not do that, so Kevorkian personally injected the lethal solution into his client’s right arm, which in1 . . .

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