Friday, April 16, 2010


HBO Films
Cordially invites you and a guest to join
Barry Levinson, Al Pacino, Susan Sarandon,
Danny Huston, Brenda Vaccaro and John Goodman
At the New York Premiere of
Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
7:00pm Screening
The Ziegfeld Theatre
141 West 54th Street

I was visiting my family in Manhattan when the invitation came. Death and dying had been a frequent theme in my “Stitch &Bitch” radiation group. When you have been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer it is often the theme of your nightmares, too. I really didn’t know Jack, only what I had read or heard from news sources. I decided to attend the premier and learn about Jack, aka Dr. Kevorkian, aka Dr. Death.
The theatre was filled with anticipation. When Dr. Kevorkian was introduced by the president of HBO productions and stood to face the barrage of clapping I realized that Dr. Death was a tiny man, hardly someone to fear. The larger than life physician was frail from age and years of incarceration.

During the film, I was amazed as actor Al Pachino transformed into Dr. Kevorkian’s shuffling, stooped over persona as he lived the doctor’s life goal, “to release people from undue suffering and embrace death.” To his patients, Dr. Death was The Angel of Mercy –A doctor who listened to his terminal patients and respected their individual and human right to die with dignity before their suffering reached a level that was inhumane. This idea is still important today because at some point we are all going to die. That is the rule of life. I accepted this fact after my cancer diagnosis. What I would not accept was the idea of undue suffering until my final moment. Many of my friends in therapy wouldn’t either. Some of them knew that their treatment was designed to give them time, not a cure. They chose to use that time to look for a quicker way out, before it was beyond their control. The fear of suffering is closely followed by the fear of a botched suicide. The question, “Does anyone know of a way to commit suicide that really works and is not bloody or messy?” was asked more than once in our close-knit group. Unfortunately, death and dying by one’s own hand is still a messy ordeal. Although Hollywood has perfected suicide, the human psyche has not. Desperation breeds misery. Where was Dr. Death when we needed him?—In jail!

The movie showed that Dr. Kevorkian didn’t chose his patients lightly, and he turned down more 97 percent of them—his patients chose him. He did extensive video interviews and was selective in deciding whom to deliver from the grip of undue suffering and place gently into the hands of waiting death.

I’ve heard arguments against suicide because people can have miracles healings. The blind might see again and believe me, I believe in miracles! I am a walking miracle. But for certain patients, Dr. Kevorkian was their miracle.
It is not the hospitals or doctors who are to blame for undue suffering. They are bound by policy that is governed and limited by law. The problem is not in the medical field but in the law. If a doctor has his license revoked, how many other needy patients is he not able to help. This is a medical catch 22 that must be addressed. Disconnecting someone from life support and allowing them to die “naturally” from starvation is not humane. We don’t even do that to our pets. We humanely put them “to sleep.” Do humans deserve less? Did Dr. Death do less?

As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote in 1969 in her book, On Death and Dying, “When a patient is severely ill, he is often treated like a person with no rights to an opinion.” Unfortunately, in 2010, I found that this is still often the case.
In the new age of Enlightment with holistic and integrative medicine are we still in the Dark Ages concerning death and dying? Watch You don’t Know Jack, April 24th on HBO and decide for yourself—Dr. Death or Angle of Mercy?

For pictures on the new Al Pacino movie “You Don’t Know Jack,” go to

About the Author: Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos penned SURVIVINGCANCERLAND
Resources: THE NEW YORK POST, Friday, April 16th, 2010, pg 30