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Friday, June 3, 2011

Sociopath alert: Jack Kevorkian

Jack Kevorkian died last night (without any assistance). I included a piece on Jack Kevorkian in a manuscript I once wrote on sociopathy:

I believe assisted suicide is a good cause: it's inhumane not to let the terminally ill end their suffering. But euthanasia's chief proponent, Jack Kevorkian, is simply a serial killer in disguise. He has hidden his sociopathy, and his lust to kill, under the cloak of humanitarianism. 

Before he became famous, Kevorkian, a coroner, lost several hospital jobs due to his erratic behavior. Among other transgressions, he would beg hospital administrators to let him know when people were about to die, because he liked to photograph them at the moment of death (this serves no medical purpose). This sounds suspiciously like the actions of someone who is a serial killer at heart but doesn't quite have the guts to do the dark deed himself.

It would be one thing if Kevorkian quietly performed euthanasia on terminally ill sufferers. But this is not enough for him. Kevorkian craves attention and publicity, just like an affect-hungry sociopath. He once went on a hunger strike just to protest the authorities' attempts to rein him in. He has publicly burned documents he had received from the authorities telling him to desist. He takes every opportunity to taunt his opponents. (One telling question about someone's character is, which is stronger, his affection for his allies or his hatred of his enemies?)

Kevorkian has dressed up for court appearances in colonial garb and white wig (to protest what he calls our antiquated justice system). Sometimes he shows up in shackles and chains. One time he put himself in stocks to conduct a press interview. Sometimes he is polite in court, sometimes rude. As one prosecutor said, "We never know which Jack Kevorkian is going to show up." (This volatility is often part of a sociopath's arsenal of tricks to keep his opponents off balance.) Kevorkian has carried on so loudly that judges have had to order him to restrain himself on several occasions. (He has been known to spontaneously yell sexual insults at his legal opponents.) These are not the actions of a man constrained by inhibition.

Kevorkian's grudges extend far beyond the ranks of mere prosecutors. He once left a corpse in the parking lot of a hospital he particularly disliked. He also once left a corpse near the Oakland County jail. These actions seem particularly hypocritical coming from a man who has publicly stated that he got into the euthanasia business in order to let people "die with dignity."

Kevorkian took his taunting to a new level when he provided a videotape of himself killing Thomas Youk to Sixty Minutes. This time he didn't just assist the man to commit suicide, he actually administered the hypodermic himself. (Taping the drooling, helpless, mute Youk in his wheelchair and then parading him on national TV is hardly the definition of "dignity.") At one point in the show, Kevorkian taunted prosecutors by  asking, "Do you have to dust for fingerprints?" At the end of the show, interviewer Mike Wallace asked him why he did what he did. Kevorkian answered, "I'm doing it for selfish reasons. I just hope that if I'm terminally ill, someone will be there to ease my suffering." Kevorkian was only being half honest. He was being selfish, but his selfishness consisted of indulging his own ghoulish fascination with death.

Kevorkian had actually hoped with this tape to be charged with first degree murder to spur a showdown with the authorities (he had been acquitted on previous counts.) He got his wish. Then, in the time honored tradition of sociopaths from Ted Bundy to Colin Ferguson, he insisted on representing himself at his trial. (He got more attention that way, and perhaps he actually felt he could do a better job than the lawyers who did this for a living.) Kevorkian frequently stumbled in his presentation, attempting to turn his trial from the question of whether he had violated the law into a question of whether the law was correct. But the judge was having none of it, and she would not allow his arguments. In his closing arguments, Kevorkian compared himself to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, but the jury convicted him anyway.

Kevorkian appears a supreme egotist. He has had a CD of his music pressed. He has held an exhibit of his paintings. One painting depicted a headless torso with plants growing out of its neck, holding a knife and fork, sitting at a dinner table, in front of a plate with a head on it. (Somehow his choice of subject material does not surprise.)

Kevorkian is less artist than exhibitionist, and less angel of mercy than angel of death. He seems to see himself as a martyr, but martyrdom is less convincing when the martyr has lobbied so hard for the role. Assisted suicide may be a good cause, but it would be more seemly if someone other than a serial killer-at-heart were doing the assisting.


Anonymous said...

From your post: "...volatility is often part of a sociopath's arsenal of tricks to keep his opponents off balance."

Is the volatility something that's calculated and truly pulled out of a "bag of tricks", or is the behaviour part of the disorder, so that even the sociopath himself is not sure which behaviour will show up in a given situation? Or perhaps a mixture of both calculation and disorder?

John Craig said...

Anonymous --
Good question. I think the best answer is your suggestion, a mixture of both. Sociopaths, uninhibited creatures that they are, tend not to have a lot of control over their own emotions, and are thus more naturally inclined to be temperamental anyway. At the same time, they're also usually trying to manipulate people, and keeping them off balance is an effective way to do that. So, yes, a mixture.

Anonymous said...

Brings to mind the first round of Blago testimony.

John Craig said...

G --
Kevorkian actually doesn't remind me of Blago at all, other than their mutual sociopathy. Blago is a healthy, robust, exuberant, and greedy sort of bully. Dr. K was far more unhealthy, creepy and ghoulish. He reminds me of that male nurse I posted about recently, the one who talked a couple of people into committing suicide.

Anonymous said...

I was referring to what the first commenter said about volatility; Blago uses that trick as well.

Otherwise, I agree, Blago and Dr. Death aren't that similar.

John Craig said...

Aha, thank you, my mistake. Yes, Blago does use that trick.

Anonymous said...

No prob. Very interesting portrait of Dr.D, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Jack Kervorkian looks creepy and evil. When he was pushing his cause (which I'm opposed to, assisting people in dying), he could be convincing in his argument. It wasn't until this post that I learned that he was a sociopath.

- Susan

John Craig said...

Susan --
He does look creepy, doesn't he? I agree with the cause of allowing terminally ill people in great pain to end their own lives in as gentle a way as possible if they so choose, but Kevorkian himself was just a serial killer at heart. And in deed, as well.