HBO Movie on Assisted Suicide Advocate Jack Kevorkian Premiers Saturday

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 20, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

HBO Movie on Assisted Suicide Advocate Jack Kevorkian Premiers Saturday

by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 20
, 2010

Washington, DC ( — The new HBO movie glorifying the life of assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian starring Al Pacino premiers on Saturday. You Don’t Know Jack, the biopic on the man who was eventually imprisoned for killing a disabled patient on national television, is already drawing criticism.

Kevorkian wrote a book during his time in prison and the manuscript has been turned into an upcoming HBO movie entitled "You Don’t Know Jack."

Pacino plays Kevorkian in a role he said previously he appreciates.
"It’s an honor," Kevorkian said. "He looks exactly like me."

Attorney and author Wesley J. Smith says the movie presents a revisionist history of Kevorkian and his killing more than 120 people in assisted suicides.

"The revisionist project to create a fictional Jack Kevorkian as merely a lovable, if sometimes tactless, man of compassion–rather the misanthropic and ghoulish nut that he really is–continues," he says.

Smith says the media is playing a willing accomplice by ignoring Kevorkian’s exploits in its coverage of the movie.

"To depict Kevorkian as merely idiosyncratic, you have to willfully refuse to report the full story in all of its macabre vividness. And that is something the media has done now for nearly two decades. But let us be clear: They don’t know Jack because they don’t want to know Jack," he said.

Smith says Kevorkian began his career going where executions are conducted asking to experiment on condemned prisoners.

Kevorkian took the kidneys from one assisted suicide victim–a man with quadriplegia–and held a press conference offering them “first come, first served.”

"He never limited his killing practice to people with terminal illnesses. About 70% were disabled. Five of Kevorkian’s patients were not sick upon autopsy," Smith noted.

John Goodman also appears in the movie as does Susan Sarandon, who reprises the role of euthanasia activist Janet Good.

Smith says Good "conspired with Kevorkian in his reign of lawlessness, even planning to help kill a patient and then, with Kevorkian, rush the cadaver into a hospital, so organs could be procured."

"They never carried out the plan. She committed assisted suicide and her autopsy showed that her pancreatic cancer was not near the terminal stage," he explained.

Though Pacino never knew Kevorkian personally before doing the film, he reportedly spent countless hours studying him and spoke with Kevorkian over the phone to understand more about what drove the eccentric former pathologist.

"The real zealots are rare, they go out the window,” Pacino told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. “That kind of commitment, I wanted to see what that was like.

"There are times when you want to meet the person you’re playing. With Kevorkian, I just enveloped myself in the research. I see him as a doctor who cared for his patients. A sort-of 1960s revolutionary."

Kevorkian told the New York Daily News he is happy with the film.

"Al is a terrific guy," he said. "The film is superb. There were times when tears came into my eyes — even after all the experience I have … "

He says the movie also does a good job at showing why he never got married.

"I almost got engaged once. I realized it wouldn’t last. I thought it was better not to marry than go through a bad divorce. I wasn’t really excited about raising children. I always said, ‘If I had a son like me, I’d kill him.’ I was irascible, flighty. I was hard to raise. I pity my poor parents," he told the newspaper.

In an odd twist, Kevorkian also bashed his former attorney, Geoffrey Fieger.

"Of course he was there," says Kevorkian. "He uses any opportunity for publicity. To him, this film is about him. But I don’t use him. I don’t think he’s a competent lawyer."

The two reportedly had a falling out when Feiger ran for governor in 1998.

"He’s a phony," says Kevorkian. "He flip-flopped on the position because he has no guts. He can’t take the consequences of it. Prison frightens him."

But Feiger responded to the News: "I don’t know what Jack didn’t like about the eight acquittals I got him. For 10 years, I put up with his mood swings. He fired me more times than I remember. I finally said, ‘I can’t fight you anymore.’"

Ultimately, Smith hopes the public will learn about the real Jack Kevorkian.

"Kevorkian did not care much about alleviating the suffering of patients, (he once said he couldn’t remember their names) but rather called it ‘a first step, an early distasteful professional obligation’ toward obtaining a license to engage in human experimentation, writing further," he said.

"It is a disturbing sign of the times that a man who is so clearly disturbed and a social outlaw, could be depicted as a hero," he concluded.

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