Importance of Dr Kevorkian's Case for Medical Ethics – Medical Ethics Example

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"Importance of Dr Kevorkian's Case for Medical Ethics" is a perfect example of a paper on medical ethics.   Laws and biomedical ethics are seen to both provide important rules of conduct to be followed so as to help in protecting society. While laws help in establishing the basic rules that define the obligations and rights that are afforded to a person in society as well as penalizing any individuals that happen to break these laws, ethics, on the other hand, are seen to generally incorporate the beliefs and broad values of what the society believes to be good conduct.

According to Madihally (448), while good ethics might be used to make good laws, it is often seen that good laws do not always help in making good ethics. This is because significant overlaps are often seen to exist between ethical and legal decision making. One of the main differences between the law and medical ethics is that while the law is seen to operate under stringent and formal adversarial process rules that only serve to allow very little room for any deviation as is seen in courtrooms, ethical consultations, on the other hand, are seen to be quite flexible and are able to easily conform to the particular needs of each circumstance and institution.

Another key difference between the law and medical ethics is that medical ethics are designed to try and assist all the different parties that are seen to be involved in the process as opposed to being adversarial. Medical ethics tend to heavily rely on a given individual’ s personal values and it is important that medical ethics be allowed to make ethical decisions.

However, this can often result in huge clashes between medical ethics and the law as is seen in the case of Euthanasia. The Law and Legal Issues in the Dr Kevorkian Case                       According to Darr (5), Dr Kevorkian was responsible for having assisted in over 130 suicides in the Michigan area by the end of 1996. Numerous criminal proceedings had been brought against Dr Kevorkian as a result of his engaging in physician-assisted suicides but these criminal proceedings had largely remained unsuccessful for a number of years. One of the key reasons that these criminal proceedings against Dr Kevorkian were never successful was that the Michigan Court of Appeal had earlier on ruled that the ban on assisted suicides had been passed illegally.

This resulted in judges and juries being forced to dismissing any charges that happened to be brought against Dr Kevorkian based on the ruling that assisted suicide was actually a constitutional right.                       In 1994, the Michigan Supreme Court eventually ruled that it was now illegal for any individual to obtain or assist another individual to commit suicide.

This ruling by the Supreme Court was soon to be followed after by a ruling in 1998 that now made assisted-suicide a felony in the state. With this new legislation, individuals assisting in suicide could now be fined up to $10,000, or be incarcerated for a maximum prison sentence of 5 years. Dr Kevorkian was nevertheless seen to continue to assist different individuals in committing suicide even after 1994 ruling and was eventually convicted of second-degree murder in 1998 after his being charged with the illegal delivery of a controlled substance as well as a violation of the assisted suicide law.

Of the 130 persons that are known to have died with the assistance of Dr Kevorkian, it is estimated that only about 40% of these patients actually suffered from terminal illnesses a factor that served to raise a number of significant ethical issues Darr (5). In 1999 Dr Kevorkian was sentenced for a term of 10-25 years for second-degree homicide and was repeatedly denied parole. Appeals made to both the Michigan and U. S. Supreme Court were unsuccessful as the courts refused to review his personal involvement in various aspects of physician-assisted suicide (PAS), the subsequent criminal prosecutions and eventual conviction.   However, after 8 years of imprisonment, he was eventually paroled for good behaviour and released in 2007.                       Dr Kevorkian was released on parole for a time period of two years based on the condition that he would neither provide any form of care to disabled or persons that happened to be older than 62 years nor would he help anyone else to die.

The strict rules for Dr Kevorkian’ s parole also required that he not in any way comment on assisted suicide.

In accepting these parole rules, the doctor promised that he would completely abstain from any efforts geared at attempting to assist any terminally ill patients with death and he would primarily focus his efforts strictly toward the persuasion of states to try and convince them to change their stringent laws on assisted suicides. The Dr Kevorkian case is seen to have resulted in the U. S. Supreme Court making a ruling on the issue of assisted-suicide that stated that states were responsible for the regulation of medical practice which also included assisted suicide (Maurice & Hamilton, 366). Medical Ethical issues in the Dr Kevorkian Case                       There were a number of medical ethical issues that were raised in the Dr Kevorkian case.

He argued that by engaging in PAS, his sole intention was to only try and relieve the suffering and pain that was being endured by his patients, an action that inevitably always resulted in the death of these patients. According to Dr Kevorkian, while the good effect of helping relieve the patients of the pain that they were going through, was always intended, it was unfortunate that death, which was the bad effect, was the sole means through which it was possible to achieve the good effect (Ekland-Olson, 94).                       However, Dr Kevorkian also experienced a number of criticisms as a result of this practice.

The American Medical Association (AMA) pointed out that by his invoking the patient-physician relationship so as to help in cloaking his wrongful actions, Dr Kevorkian was essentially not only perverting the time-honoured idea of physicians been committed and caring but was also weakening the general public’ s trust in the entire medical profession.                       Another medical ethical argument against Dr Kevorkian was that even after his medical license had been withdrawn, the doctor was seen to critically compromise the profession as a result of his continuing to practice medicine by injecting patients with the lethal drugs. The medical ethics debate on assisted-suicide is seen to be significantly much larger than the general debate surrounding the Dr Kevorkian case.

However, while other physicians have been seen to engage in activities designed to aid their patients in committing suicide, It was Dr Kevorkian who was to eventually emerge as the most visible and outspoken physician to ever be associated with this practice.                       The actions of Dr Kevorkian resulted in the issue of patient-assisted deaths becoming revisited and made illegal in the state of Michigan but also served to elicit a ruling from the United States Supreme Court outlawing the same.

The case also caused a number of medical ethical questions to be raised pertaining as to whether physicians should be regarded as being foes or friends to moral medicine.                       The Dr Kevorkian case caused the (AMA) which governs and provides guidelines of the medical profession in the country to firmly establish its position on assisted suicide.

The association pointed out that one of its most fundamental principles was that physicians in the country should not in any way commit any actions that might result in the eventual death of their patients as the practice of conducting physician-assisted deaths was basically completely incompatible with the prescribed role of physicians being healers (Arkes, 73).


Arkes, H. (2010). Constitutional illusions and anchoring truths : the touchstone of the natural law. Cambridge [England] ; New York, NY : Cambridge University Press.

Darr, K. (2007). Physician-assisted suicide: legal and ethical considerations. Journal of health law, 40(1), 29.

Ekland-Olson, S. (2013). Life and Death Decisions: The Quest for Morality and Justice in Human Societies. Routledge.

Gershwin, M. E. & Hamilton, E. M. (1998). The pain management handbook : a concise guide to diagnosis and treatment. Totowa, NJ Humana Press.

Madihally, V. S. (2010). Principles of biomedical engineering. Boston : Artech House.

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